Trump Believes Racism Makes Him Strong. McCain Knew Better

Why won't Trump honor McCain's memory?

The Post reported Sunday that President Donald Trump refused to respect and honor the memory of John McCain, who died over the weekend, by calling the fighter pilot, prisoner of war, and popular member of the United States Senate a “hero.”

Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly and other White House aides advocated for an official statement that gave the decorated Vietnam War POW plaudits for his military and Senate service and called him a “hero … The original statement was drafted before McCain died Saturday, and Sanders and others edited a final version this weekend that was ready for the president, the aides said. But Trump told aides he wanted to post a brief tweet instead, and the statement praising McCain’s life was not released.

This morning, while flags in Washington and elsewhere were flying in McCain’s honor at half mast, the flag atop the White House was conspicuously flying at full mast.

Karen Travers@karentravers

Camera shot facing south over the White House - you can see the flag at the WH at full staff while the flags surrounding the Washington Monument are lowered pic.twitter.com/xT2KdPLgpB

August 27, 2018
By the time you read this newsletter, I’m guessing you will have read many ways of explaining Trump’s extraordinary behavior, virtually all of them uncharitable to a president who once said that he likes war heroes who don’t get captured.

But I want to point out what I think is a persuasive explanation that typically escapes attention. Donald Trump won’t honor John McCain, because if he does, he will look weak, and he can’t have that. In the president’s mind, the president is strong.

Why would Trump look weak for honoring the memory of a respected senator? To answer that, we have to go back to the foundation of the Trump-McCain feud.

The story is usually told this way.

To Trump voters, McCain was a symbol of the establishment, a reminder of why the GOP could not advance a truly conservative agenda during the Barack Obama years. Trump’s 2016 victory repudiated the GOP establishment and its status quo.

Moreover, McCain deserved being Trump’s punching bag in the mind of Trump’s supporters. Not only did he defy Trump by defending what he believed were timeless principles. He defied Trump by being the lone holdout to repealing Obamacare, something the GOP had promised to do. For Trump loyalists, McCain’s thumbs-down vote proved their suspicions. It justified their savagery and validated Trump’s.

While the above is partly true, it’s not the whole truth.

Fact is, McCain was as partisan as anyone else. With rare exception, as with campaign finance and Obamacare, he voted with his party virtually every time. That includes voting for the tax overhaul and confirming Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Trump loyalists pilloried McCain for downright primitive reasons. To them, McCain was scared, and in being scared, he was weak. In being weak, McCain was contemptible. Meanwhile, the president wasn’t scared. He was man enough to say things no one else would say for fear of offending the political correctness police.

And in being man enough to say what needed saying, he won.

Scared? John McCain?

That’s not what most people saw in 2008 when McCain, then running for president, told a wild-eyed conservative voter she was wrong about calling Obama an “Arab.” She was wrong, in other words, for reaching into that bottomless well of right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theory, and bringing what she found to the public.

“No, ma’am,” he said. “No, ma’am.”

Obama is a decent family man, a citizen, whom he happened to disagree with.

“That’s what this campaign is about.”

While most people saw principle, respect, and American decency (indeed, this was a defining moment for both parties), future Trump voters saw fear. Worse, weakness.

Here was a so-called Republican who could have brutalized publicly the first black man to make a credible run for president of the United States, but chose not to.

To Trump loyalists, McCain was too scared of offending an establishment in thrall to political correctness. He was too scared of “telling it like it is,” of “saying what everyone’s thinking,” and of “breaking the rules.” To them, this was tantamount to being liberal, which meant McCain was worse than a Republican In Name Only.

He was a traitor to real Americans.

Trump believes racism makes him strong. McCain knew better. Yes, by picking Sarah Palin as his running mate, he helped lay the foundation for what would become Donald Trump’s GOP. But McCain himself didn’t have to be a racist to be strong. He stood for something, whether you liked it or not, not merely against it.

Trump won’t honor McCain, because he can’t. He’d look weak.

Trump is weak, but now we don’t have McCain to remind us.

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