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How Trump Keeps Getting it Wrong on John McCain

March 27, 2019
How Trump Keeps Getting it Wrong on John McCain
John McCain. (Photo by Shaun Heasley/Getty Images)

President Trump’s never-ending stream of outrages has been overtaken by news about the end of the Mueller investigation, but it’s still worth nothing that his personal attacks on the late Senator John McCain are as unwise as they are unfair. The maxim, “Don’t speak ill of the dead” goes all the way back to ancient Greece and good advice for those who don’t want to come across as small and insecure.

John McCain was a deeply flawed individual, and he would have been the first to admit it. As well as the first to  mock the idea that he was somehow special. He had a temper. Especially in his younger days, he was a lazy screw-up who too often coasted through life. He certainly never claimed to be a genius, and no one ever claimed he was a  saint.

And yet, John McCain achieved great things. He achieved these things not because he was special, but because he believed in something more important than himself.

Most people are aware of McCain’s patriotism and how he was held as a POW for five and half years and how he suffered torture at the hands of his captors. They also know how he refused to be released by the North Vietnamese until those who had been captured before him were released as well. McCain bore the scars of his imprisonment the rest of his life and, because of the torture he endured, was never able to raise his arms above his shoulders.

But there is a lesser-known incident from his life that tells an interesting story about McCain’s character. He could have been forgiven for harboring a deep and abiding hatred of Vietnam. Instead, his belief in something greater than himself led him to put his personal feelings aside and work for reconciliation. And so he became the chief architect of the United State’s decision to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995. While very few of us will ever need to find the courage to face horrific conditions like John McCain did, we are all faced with situations where we must choose between petty vindictiveness and the greater good.

McCain sacrificed for this country and, after he returned from the war, he devoted himself to public service. Whether you agreed with him politically or not, McCain was as fine an example of an American patriot as one could hope to find on either side of the aisle. Which brings us to the most deplorable of Donald Trump’s attacks.

In his speech in Ohio, Trump complained that he had never been thanked for approving McCain’s funeral. First, this is largely incorrect because President Trump didn’t approve much of anything. Congress authorizes lying in state at the Capitol and the Washington National Cathedral was responsible for the funeral itself. The only thing that required assistance from the White House would have been military transportation and honor guards.

But there is a more fundamental point here. The idea that the McCain family should have thanked Trump for “approving” John McCain’s funeral is exactly backwards. When a veteran, especially one like John McCain dies, they have earned the honors that are bestowed on them.

McCain’s funeral wasn’t Trump’s gift to give. Instead, it was a small acknowledgement of the gratitude this country owes to John McCain and veterans like him.

Chris Truax

Chris Truax is an appellate lawyer in San Diego and the CEO of, the first system designed to deter foreign interference in American social media. He is a member of the Guardrails of Democracy Project.