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The Revenge of John McCain and John Lewis

The two heroes’ legacies might be visible in the 2020 map.
November 9, 2020
The Revenge of John McCain and John Lewis

Moral courage and physical courage are different. Each quality is rare; to find them both together is rarer still. In the past two years, America has wished its final farewells to two men whose moral and physical courage made them nothing short of heroes.

John McCain and John Lewis both endured violence. They were denied their freedoms. They stood up for justice. They defeated evil. They were America’s best, and the beloved sons of their states, Arizona and Georgia.

And they both publicly feuded with Donald Trump. It’s no surprise: They both stood up to bullies more aggressive and wicked than Trump, and in situations where they held less power. They were consummate patriots who abhorred cowardice, racism, and selfishness in public servants. So they were no fans of  his, and he hated them.

McCain once said, “nothing in life is more liberating than to fight for a cause greater than yourself.” Trump has never fought for anything greater than himself. McCain may never have fully hated Trump, but he pitied the president as a prisoner of his own greed and selfishness.

But even if McCain didn’t hate Trump, Lewis did enough for the both of them. And with a righteous fury. He didn’t attend Trump’s inauguration. How could he? Lewis was a civil rights hero, and Donald Trump couldn’t bring himself to condemn the Ku Klux Klan. Lewis compared Trump to George Wallace, saying that both of them were demagogic, divisive politicians.

Trump’s feud with McCain began almost as soon as Trump launched his presidential campaign. Trump is not a man to let go of an attack gracefully. He punched back. When the then-candidate mocked McCain’s service, insisting McCain was not a war hero because he was captured, McCain told a confidant, “All he did was get people to talk about what a hero I am all weekend!” Trump’s attacks on McCain didn’t let up after his cancer diagnosis, nor even after his death.

Trump ignorantly accused Lewis of having been “all talk and no action.” When, soon after Lewis’s death, Trump was invited to reflect on the legacy of the civil rights icon, he could only bring himself to observe that Lewis had skipped his State of the Union speeches and postured, “nobody has done more for black Americans than I have.”

Trump might have gotten away with his crude and cruel comments, but for once America’s bad luck was his bad luck, too. Cancer took away McCain and Lewis from us. And Republicans and Democrats took moments to reflect on what heroes the two men were. The heroes didn’t pass from memory but became martyrs.

As the country awaits the final declaration—still not entirely certain—that Georgia and Arizona have voted for a Democratic presidential nominee for the first time since 1992 and 1996, respectively, and for a man who was friends with both men while they lived, it’s hard not to think it might be revenge from heaven.

Shay Khatiri

Shay Khatiri studied Strategic Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. He’s an immigrant from Iran and writes the Substack newsletter The Russia-Iran File.