Newsletter: John McCain, the GOP’s lost conscience

A military honor guard team carries the casket of Sen. John McCain into the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
A military honor guard team carries the casket of Sen. John McCain into the U.S. Capitol on Friday.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

Good morning. I’m Paul Thornton, and it is Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The National Weather Service has made official what those of us who suffered and sweltered through this summer long suspected: This July and August combination was the hottest in Los Angeles’ recorded history. Let’s take a look back at the week in Opinion.

Since John McCain died of brain cancer a week ago, tributes remembering the Arizona Republican senator as a war hero, bipartisan maverick and all-around decent human being have been pouring in. Had McCain died during any presidential administration, the eulogies would have been just as heartfelt and the sadness just as strong as now — but surely the grief is felt more acutely given our present circumstances.

McCain himself mentioned these circumstances in his final statement, a moving tribute to the country he served and a passionate appreciation for the ideals the late senator felt it embodies. “Do not despair of our present difficulties, but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here,” McCain wrote. “Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.”

It is perhaps this statement that best exemplifies what Doyle McManus, an Opinion contributing writer and former columnist, wrote Americans were really mourning about McCain:

McCain is an object of reverence for his personal courage, which was considerable when he exerted it, and for his old-fashioned civility in political battle. His concession speech to Barack Obama at the end of the nasty 2008 presidential campaign — “Senator Obama has achieved a great thing for himself and his country. … [He] will be my president.” — was a model of grace amid disappointment.

But plenty of politicians, even in the age of President Trump, still manage to behave civilly toward their opponents. McCain was more complicated and more interesting.

What distinguished the Arizonan most was his adherence, worn on his sleeve, to a rigorous code of honor inherited from his father and grandfather, both decorated Navy admirals — combined with his recurring habit of falling short of his own standards and reproaching himself for his failings in public.

Nearly all politicians cut corners on their way to the top. Few of them apologize when they do. (The current president of the United States, who loathed McCain, never apologizes for anything.) None, at least none in recent memory, ever apologized as fully and relentlessly as McCain.

All honest politicians hate the squalid little tradeoffs that politics demands — the favors, the compromises, the truckling to campaign donors. But most of them express their distress in private. McCain felt compelled to express his in public. ...

No wonder he found himself in bitter opposition to Trump, whose standards of honor and valor have proven undetectable.

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Readers compared President Trump and McCain. For them, the death of the longtime Arizona senator serves as a stark reminder of how totally the GOP has fallen into line behind a president who has far less honor than the man they nominated for Trump’s job 10 years ago. One reader wrote, “McCain the American hero will lie in state at the U.S. Capitol — juxtaposed with Trump, the American embarrassment who will just lie.” Another wrote about Trump not being invited to McCain’s funeral: “What did President Trump expect? To continue without consequence bullying and humiliating people in his attempt to cover up his bottomless well of insecurities and feelings of inferiority, unconscious though they may be?”

A good McCain legacy: an international “league of democracies.” Columnist Jonah Goldberg says establishing a group of democratic nations alongside the United Nations, whose membership includes anti-democratic autocracies, would fulfill McCain’s vision of promoting American ideals abroad. It would also have the effect, Goldberg says, of combating the nationalism on the rise both worldwide and within the United States. L.A. Times

California can rescue the Amazon rain forest. Trees filter out carbon dioxide and replenish our supply of oxygen, and many of those trees — without which our efforts to fight climate change would be futile — are located in the Amazon rain forest. So what does this have to do with our state? California already has a cap-and-trade system up and running; all it needs to do to help the Amazon and preserve humanity’s best weapon in the battle against global warming is to create credits for saving whole forest landscapes. New York Times

Mexico has Trump figured out. The American president, like a hostage-taking madman, was threatening to blow up the North American Free Trade Agreement — and his Mexican counterpart, like a skilled hostage negotiator, did what he needed to calm Trump and defuse the bomb. Sure, this involved stroking Trump’s ego by taking part in a bizarre White House phone call and enduring some momentary humiliation, write Andres Martinez, but in the end, the goal is to preserve the health of the North American economy. L.A. Times

Too far, even for Trump: The White House is reportedly denying passport renewals to American citizens living in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. The reason: Decades ago some babies born just across the border were provided fraudulent birth certificates by midwives, and now some of those people live in the United States as citizens. Even considering past unconscionable actions on immigration by the administration, says The Times Editorial Board, “they pale in comparison to challenging the citizenship of Americans based on a barest whisper of wrongdoing not by them, but by the people who brought them into this world.” L.A. Times