When the news leaked on Thursday that a Trump aide had despicably dissed John McCain (he “doesn’t matter, he’s dying anyway”), it triggered a firestorm that’s still burning. Sane people are shocked that someone in the White House could be so heartless about a fellow human’s demise.
But what’s truly shocking is that anyone is shocked at all. Kelly Sadler’s glib contempt was perfectly in sync with the predominant Trumpist ‘tude. Hating McCain is virtually White House policy, so Sadler was merely demonstrating what passes for intellectual fitness in the current regime.
You may be wondering why this is so.
Why has the Trump regime steadfastly refused to apologize for Sadler? Why has it officially excused a remark that further debases our civic discourse? Why is this regime barely one notch more enlightened than the alt-right loons who are jonesing to celebrate McCain’s passing (like the hater on a right-wing message board who says that McCain’s brain cancer is “godly justice,” and the hater who says McCain “needs to die, the faster the better,” and the hater who says that McCain’s death “will do our race a lot of good”)?
Their virulence seems so unwarranted, given the fact that McCain – despite his sporadic image as a independent “maverick” – has basically comported himself, during his 31-year Senate career, as a conservative Republican. He has passed more right-wing litmus tests than I have time to list, but a small sampling should suffice:
He supported the ’04 cancellation of the assault weapons ban. He opposed bills that would’ve made it easier to sue gun manufacturers. He opposed federal hate crimes legislation. He repeatedly opposed legislation designed to strengthen labor unions.
He championed the disastrous Iraq war (“we will win this conflict, we will win it easily”) that destabilized the Middle East and strengthened Iran. He opposed the ’96 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In 2007, during a campaign appearance, he jokingly sang, “Bomb bomb, bomb Iran.” In 2010, despite strong public and Pentagon support for gays in the military, he defended homophobia to the bitter end, insisting that uncloseted gays in uniform would “harm the battle effectiveness which is so vital to the survival of our young men and women.”
He supported the privatization of Social Security, tax cuts for the rich, a long string of conservative judicial nominees, and he supported the posting of the Ten Commandments in public schools – arguably a violation of the separation of church and state. He also said that public schools should teach creationism, even though the American Association for the Advancement of Science has warned that proponents of creationism have “failed to offer credible scientific evidence to undermine the accepted theory of evolution.”
His ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have typically been zero. He has consistently opposed federal funding for family planning clinics. In 2006, he voiced support for a law that would ban all abortions except when a woman’s life was endangered – a blatant violation of Roe v. Wade.
Here’s the big picture: From 1987 to 2015, McCain voted the Republican party line 87 percent of the time, and since Trump came to town, McCain has voted the Trump position 83 percent of the time. So again, we have to wonder, why all the hatred?
For starters, just flip those stats. McCain voted against the GOP 13 percent of the time, he has defied Trump 17 percent of the time. That’s anathema to a political party that has morphed into a personality cult that virtually equates dissent with treason. (An alt-right Trumpist on social media last week, cheering for McCain’s death: “He’s a traitor and a psychopath.”)
Secondly, McCain frequently clashed with the Christian right that has hypocritically betrothed itself to Trump. That hostility has been mutual since at least 2000, when McCain challenged George W. Bush for the GOP nomination. McCain attacked the Rev. Jerry Falwell in campaign speech, and that didn’t well with right-wing evangelicals. Led by Ralph Reed, most of them supported Bush, and during the pivotal South Carolina primary evangelical voters were peppered with rumors that McCain was nuts due to his years as a POW, and that he had fathered an illegitimate black child (in truth, he and his wife had adopted a baby from Bangladesh). McCain always blamed Reed for the fake news, and got his revenge in 2006 when he helped to expose Reed’s unsavory business ties to convicted felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. McCain has a long memory, but evangelicals’ memories are longer.
Lastly, McCain saw fit to work on occasion with Democrats – and even to vote on key issues with Democrats, most notably with his ’17 thumbs-down vote on the GOP’s attempted killing of Obamacare. I suppose that alone helps to explain why one of the haters surfaced on Fox Business to recycle the long-debunked rumor that McCain cracked under torture and earned the nickname “Songbird John” (he never cracked or had that nickname). And I suppose that his overall lack of fervor for Trumpism helps to explain why, after his illness was announced, a pro-Trump Republican committeewoman posted a link to an article entitled “Just F—–g Die Already” and added a word of her own: “Amen.”
So Kelly Sadler’s White House remark didn’t happen in a vacuum. Its cruelty has a context. But as much as we try to explain it, we can’t excuse it. It’s a new low for a regime that has no bottom.