Along with other grateful Americans, I recently paid my respects to Sen. John McCain in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. It was truly a moving experience to walk past his casket, draped in the American flag.
McCain, only the 31st American to receive this honor, rested on the same black catafalque on which the remains of Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy and Rosa Parks were once held.
In the days preceding the funeral, President Donald Trump’s response to the senator’s death was not what one would expect from any occupant of the Oval Office. Former first lady Michelle Obama once said, “When they go low, we go high.” Unfortunately, Trump has adopted a motto of, “I go lower because I was not taught, and therefore do not know, any better.”
Forty-eight hours after the senator’s death, the White House finally issued an official statement. The president’s initial tweet was impersonal. For example, there was no mention of McCain’s years of public service as an elected official nor heroic sacrifice as a POW for close to six years.
Furthermore, it was painful to watch as Trump crossed his arms like a spoiled, petulant child and refused to acknowledge requests to comment on McCain’s passing in not one, but four press availabilities. To add insult to injury, he reversed himself and ordered the American flag over the White House from half-staff to full, even as it remained at half at the Capitol and other federal facilities.
My father used to say, “Son, always be respectful of others because it will take you far in life.” Sadly, President Trump is an exception to this rule.
Unwelcomed at the funeral, the president golfed instead. Among those in attendance were the three previous presidents and every major-party nominee for the past two decades.
It was his second non-invite to a national funeral in less than six months. The Bush family did not invite him to the funeral of former first lady Barbara Bush. He was also not invited to the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For the first time in history, we have a president lacking in basic civility and humanity. America and the world are responding in kind. These facts are damning indictments of the Trump presidency.
Prejudice will never be presidential. Even though he was not present, the rebukes of Mr. Trump’s lack of character and apostleship of divisive politics — without even mentioning his name — could not have been more apparent. Even in death, Trumpism came under bipartisan attack, just as McCain had attacked it in life.
Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter: “We gather here to mourn the passing of American greatness — the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never near the sacrifice he gave so willingly, not the opportunistic appropriation of those who live lives of comfort and privilege while he suffered and served. America does not boast because she has no need to. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”
President George W. Bush: “He was honest, no matter whom it offended. Presidents were not spared. He was honorable, always recognizing that his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He respected the dignity inherent in every life, a dignity that does not stop at borders and cannot be erased by dictators. Perhaps above all, John detested the abuse of power and could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.”
President Barack Obama: “So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty. Trafficking in bombast and insult and phony controversies and manufactured outrage, it’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. He understood that America great isn’t based on looks, surnames or where parents or grandparents came from or how recently they made it to America.”
I understand political differences. Indeed, it should be part of any democracy, along with a free press. However, as President Obama stated, “We’ve seen footage of John pushing back against supporters that challenged my patriotism. I was grateful, but I wasn’t surprised. We never doubted the other man’s sincerity. When all was said and done, we were on the same team.”
Yet, after Trump’s treatment of McCain in life and death, as well as of other Americans who are not part of his base or seeking a better life in America, I cannot help but wonder, “Who’s team is the president on?”
Cooper is president of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc.