Mourning for high profile political figures always involves a balancing act for those who remain among the living. Politics is about controversy and disagreement. Mourning is about unity, finding the best to say about someone. Everything is in hyper-drive when it comes to Trump because he is a man who is devoid of class, decency and impulse control.
As we know, President Trump despised John McCain. He notoriously sniped that McCain “was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” But his antipathy only truly became incandescent when McCain torpedoed, with great overnight drama, Trump’s effort to repeal Obamacare: the moment caught in this gif with the dramatic thumbs done, signaling Obamacare repeal would go down to defeat.
Trump can never let anyone take the attention away from him. But McCain’s reputation is what it is. He and his family have arranged a multi-day public ceremony stretching from Arizona to Washington to Annapolis and topped it off with high profile roles for two of the President’s greatest nemeses, Barack Obama and George W. Bush. McCain reportedly made clear he did not want Trump in attendance.
The most difficult part for the President will almost certainly be the fact that he sees the whole pageantry – rightly – as in significant measure a rebuke aimed at him. Through his life and especially in the last quarter century of his life McCain presented himself as a public icon for service, selflessness, sacrifice, honesty, courage. Whether he always lived up to those ideal isn’t the point. Frequently, he didn’t. But that’s what the coming days, inevitably, will be about. And every invocation of them will be at least an implicit and often an explicit rebuke of Trump who, for all McCain’s failings, is like an anti-McCain – most known for selfishness, indiscipline, lack of self-control, lying and being clinically bereft of shame.
If you have any concern that this amounts to Trump and his awfulness somehow stepping on McCain’s moment, don’t be. It is almost certain that this would be and was precisely how McCain wanted it. It is almost unimaginable that Trump will be able to go a full week without some crass statement or public outburst aimed at McCain since McCain’s final public moments will all come at his expense. He will find that excruciating and it is hard to imagine he will get through it without further demeaning himself.