Donald Trump’s behavior in the wake of John McCain’s death this past week has reinforced how different he is from McCain. Although Trump’s base has shown unflinching support for Trump no matter what he does or says, the rest of the world cringes a little more each week at Trump’s displays. John McCain ran unsuccessfully for president twice, but perhaps he will be remembered as being more presidential than Donald Trump.
Trump has proclaimed that John McCain was not a Viet Nam war hero (“I like people who weren’t captured,” he said). Even if being a prisoner of war wouldn’t qualify McCain for hero status, his examples of heroic behavior surely would. It is reported that he refused the opportunity on more than one occasion to use his family’s social and political standing to be released ahead of his men who were also being held captive. Donald Trump, on the other hand, escaped serving in the military at all, by claiming bone spurs.
In his speech and actions throughout his career, John McCain was known for being honest and direct, yet kind. During his 2000 presidential campaign, McCain’s campaign bus was referred to as the “Straight Talk Express,” due to his practice of making his views clearly known, even when they were unpopular among his peers. Trump, however, is known for his backtracking and 360-degree statement pivots, as well as his exaggerations of statistics, and his documented untruths (an average of nine per day, according to the Washington Post).
It is a mark of integrity when one can take ownership of mistakes, and when one can admit to being wrong when presented with the appropriate evidence. John McCain openly admitted to making mistakes in his life and in his career, without blaming others or shifting the attention to someone else’s foul-ups. He sought growth opportunities where Trump seeks opportunities to inflate himself.
As president, and even as a candidate, Donald Trump has empowered his supporters to speak their ugliness out loud. Though it’s true that the darker side of human nature has always been with us, Trump has made it acceptable, even desirable, to bypass civility in favor of showing one’s base inner core of unkindness, intolerance, and lack of integrity.
In contrast, John McCain repeatedly demonstrated a strength of character that Americans have traditionally considered exemplary. McCain eschewed making personal attacks on Barack Obama and George W. Bush, for example, to whom he lost presidential elections, and instead not only went on to voice his support for them as presidents, but asked that they deliver eulogies at his funeral. Donald Trump, in contrast, consistently and publicly denigrates anyone who criticizes him or disagrees with him.
Integrity is not just doing the right thing according to whomever one is with at the moment. Honesty does not mean vocalizing a stream of consciousness. Leadership is not demonstrated by talking the loudest or interrupting the most. Intelligence is not defined by deceiving or outsmarting others in order to appear more powerful or popular. The characteristics of a leader are borne out by seeking truth, fairness, justice, and even kindness — not only when one’s supporters are watching, but when no one is watching. Though John McCain never became President, many of his attributes were far more presidential than those of President Donald Trump.
The Legacy of John McCain | ABC News [2018-08-26]
America has so few true heroes, McCain was one of those: John Layfield |
Fox Business [2018-08-29]