1. In thinking about John McCain at this particular moment in our country’s history, the point isn’t to strike some sort of balance between his good deeds and his many misdeeds over the course of his long life. That’s easy enough to do, but I’m not sure what purpose it serves other than demonstrate our “radical” credentials. Of far more importance at this moment when democratic institutions, values, governance, and traditions are under siege is to highlight Senator McCain’s stubborn resistance to authoritarian rule.
In doing so, we can hope that our voice, albeit with its limited volume and reach, will help further solidify the anti-Trump majority as well as cause a little fissure in the pro Trump minority as millions head to the voting booth in November in what is surely one of the most important elections in our country’s history.
2. While Trump stubbornly resisted John McCain’s death, some on the left, while mentioning his passing, refused to favorably acknowledge his role in the resistance against Trump and Trumpism. One reason for their silence is explained by the fact that are too busy reminding us, in case we’ve forgotten, that McCain was a war monger and worse.
But another reason, I would guess, is that in their world you’re either on the bus or off it. You’re either a righteous fighter or a vacillating liberal or a not to be trusted centrist or an irredeemable right winger like McCain. There is no space for contradictory thinking, or inconsistent allies, or expansive coalitions and heterogeneous politics, even in dire moments when the future of democratic institutions, governance, and values hangs in balance.
Luckily, this isn’t the main trend on the left. Most of us are engaged with diverse people and organizations — some of whom hold John McCain in high regard — in a common effort to take the Congress out of Republican hands.
3. If we win in November, one person that we will have to thank is John McCain. McCain, unlike most of us, speaks to and influences an audience of millions. And over the past two years, if he has conveyed anything to that audience, it’s his steadfast opposition to an authoritarian president and his acolytes. Trump is well aware of this, as evidenced by his stubborn refusal to acknowledge McCain’s death until public pressure from many directions forced him to briefly tip his hat to McCain last night.
4. The current controversy around John McCain reminds me that it is easy, but counterproductive to throw people of other political persuasions in rigid categories that allow for no complexity, no contradictions, no humanity, no space to play a constructive role, even if momentary, in the process of social change. I’m not a professional historian, but from what I have read there is little evidence for this position in history in general or moments of historical change in particular.
5. At moments like the present one when challenges are existential and old moorings aren’t necessarily reliable guides of analysis or action, I am reminded that Lenin, who is too often unfairly reduced to a dogmatic firebrand, vigorously argued that pure, unsullied, unchanging, and singularly dimensional classes, social movements, and individuals are seldom, if ever, found in real life.