Presidential: Donald Trump and John McCain

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]

Honor: John McCain vs. Donald Trump

With the death of John McCain, Donald Trump had an easy chance to show that he had the ability to act honorably and presidentially. Statesmen from around the globe, and lawmakers who had strongly disagreed with many of John McCain’s stances, demonstrated their respect and even affection, for McCain. Donald Trump, however, barely mustered a tweet of acknowledgment.

When one does an online search on “Trump honorable acts,” the first several items in the search results include topics like “The 10 Worst Things Trump Has Done This Year,” and “Donald Trump’s Long History of Racism.” In fact, in the top 10 search results for that particular keyword string, only two, related to veterans’ affairs, show Trump in a positive light.

On the other hand, in an online search for “McCain honorable acts,” all but two of the top ten search results were about John McCain’s public service and his time as a prisoner of war. One could argue that this may be, in part, due to the fact that he has just died. Naturally, praise and best regards are likely to flow for a statesman who has just passed. And that, in part, is the point.

It’s not difficult for most people to honor someone who has had a long and prolific career as a public servant, and who was widely liked and respected. Most people, even if grudgingly, are able to get past their philosophical differences to pay their respects. Donald Trump, however, even in the time of McCain’s death, has found it to be too much of a challenge to look past the narcissistic wounds he carries, to act presidentially, and pay any kind of tribute to John McCain.

Even a tribute as simple as leaving the White House flag at half-mast until McCain’s funeral seemed to be too much for Trump to do. (Public pressure eventually did cause Trump to restore the flag to half-mast.) It was also reported that an expression of condolence was drafted for Trump to use – he didn’t even have to compose it himself – yet Trump vetoed it.

McCain was widely recognized as a hero, in part for what he endured as a prisoner of war in Viet Nam. Perhaps all we need to know about Donald Trump’s character, on the other hand, can be summed up in one statement he made regarding McCain’s time as a POW:

“He’s not a hero…He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Trump’s need to proclaim to his base that McCain was no hero — that he was not to be honored — demonstrates the profound lack of integrity in Trump himself. Even more than his disregard and lack of understanding for the suffering and heroism of a prisoner of war, Trump showed his childish need to propagate disrespect and disregard for someone widely held in high esteem.

Sometimes, one demonstrates honor in his willingness to honor others. Donald Trump’s belittling of John McCain’s acclaimed heroism,  and now, his studied absence of a tribute to McCain in death, demonstrate not honor, but the desperation of a small man to elevate himself at the expense of someone else, and at all costs.

John McCain Appears To Address President Trump In Farewell Message To Nation | NBC News [2018-08-27]

Trump reportedly vetoed a statement on McCain’s passing | Fox Business [2018-08-27]