Almost unanimously, the American mainstream press laid a laurel wreath on the head of John McCain, the Republican senator from Arizona who died Saturday, Aug. 25, from brain cancer after more than five terms in office.
Mostly known abroad as the unfortunate presidential opponent of Barack Obama – unfortunate but worthy – he immediately stressed the historic nature of the election of the first black person to the White House on the night of Nov. 4, 2008.
That fall, during a bitter campaign, McCain didn’t hesitate to publicly disavow certain partisans who spread false rumors – soon taken up by a certain Donald Trump – regarding the origins, the nationality or the “secret” religion of Barack Obama: the “Muslim” or the “Arab” who “lied about his identity.”
Already, that unwillingness to submit to lies and to the denial of reality as the basis of ideology and action made McCain a different political animal … soon a stranger within his own party.
A politically conservative man – perhaps ultraconservative at times as he supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, flirted with climate change deniers and chose the priceless Sarah Palin as his running mate – yet he was sincere and transparent, disgusted by the “alternative reality” that’s become a political tactic and strategy.
In the Trump era, in a party that’s become the plaything of its child-king, McCain naturally embodied the opposition to the demagoguery, to the corruption and to the falsehood that reigns today in the White House.
It is not shocking that Trump made this venerable politician, rooted in a certain view of honor and truth, one of his preferred targets in the Republican Party, the object of repeated fury and insults.
The courageous Vietnam veteran, the multilateralist of international relations, the man of bipartisan initiatives in the Senate, the politician of straight talk capable of publicly recognizing his mistakes: McCain represented everything that Trump is not, everything that the United States no longer is.
At a subconscious level, he undoubtedly came to represent, in the view of the current president, a permanent indictment.
The disappearance of this ultimate “anti-Trump” is today characterized by two distinct moods: optimism and pessimism.
The positive view: Here’s a role model whose memory should be maintained, whose morality and exemplary character can serve as the basis for the resistance and for the reconstruction of the Republican Party. McCain represented a noninflammatory brand of conservatism, that which can and must leave the imaginary world in which Trump has trapped it. In this vision, the movement needs to become the hub of true bipartisan debate, which has today disappeared from the United States.
The negative view: When McCain left, so did “the last of the Mohicans,” representing a political world that is also gone. His death cleared the landscape on the right and accentuates the “anti-politics” embodied by Trump. McCain was a free spirit, a maverick: People remember his thumbs-down vote on Barack Obama’s health care law in July 2017, preventing the Republican majority from repealing the health insurance law that is dear to Democrats and to most Americans.
With him gone, we will have to see which kind of politician will replace him.
The near future will reveal which of these two views will be closest to reality.
Within a few months, the House of Representatives will be entirely re-elected, and the possible election of a Democratic majority could put the brakes on the “Trumpian drift.”
At the same time, the Mueller investigation into possible collusion in 2016 between Trump and Russia – and on all types of related scandals – could lead to a report this fall or devastating indictments for all the bizarre things swarming around Trump’s team and the White House.
On top of it all, the same agonizing question remains: Will this time be “the final straw” or will Trump succeed yet again in pushing the limits of politics to an unimaginable degree?