Every American should read the speech John McCain delivered last night.
In fact, every one of us should print that thing out, stick it on our refrigerator and read it before we pull out the eggs and milk for breakfast or get ready for work or drive our kids to school.
In what has been largely read as a denunciation of President Trump’s world view — the senator derided “half-baked, spurious nationalism” — McCain also reminded us who we are as a people and, perhaps more importantly, who we were.
Accepting the prestigious Liberty Medal from the National Constitution Center, he recalled a moving speech by President George H.W. Bush that extolled the bravery of those killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
He remembered America as “the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future.”
And he spoke of the international order the United States helped create after two world wars and how that order benefited not only millions of people around the world but our own citizens here at home.
“We have done great good in the world,” he said. “That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did.”
There’s the nub of it. Leadership. That’s really what the speech was about — much more so, in my view, than it was a rebuke of Trumpism.
McCain charged us all to continue leading, and that means being willing to set aside our partisan bickering, and that means being willing to set aside our fear.
Democrats fear Republicans and vice versa.
Christians fear Muslims. Atheists fear Christians.
We all fear getting killed by terrorist refugees, even though we have far greater chance of being struck by lightning.
Gun owners fear having their firearms taken away. More than half of us are afraid of Trumpcare. And, according to this year’s Chapman University Survey of American Fears, just about as many of us are afraid of war with North Korea as we are of climate change (48%).
Russian hacking. Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Illegal immigrants stealing our jobs.
We’re not just a nation divided. We’ve become a nation afraid.
Its equal parts paranoid and paralyzing.
There are real threats and challenges out there, to be sure. But shame on us for letting them rip us apart this way.
Whatever happened to “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” or “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate?”
What happened to the country that beat the Kaiser and the Fuhrer, that wrestled its way through the Great Depression and gritted through the Dust Bowl, that conquered polio, put a man on the moon and pulled together after the attacks on 9/11?
You can read McCain’s speech as a slap at Trump. And maybe it is. You could also read it as the musings of an old man near the end of a long, storied, heroic life — a man unburdened by the vagaries of electoral politics. And maybe it is that as well.
Although, to be fair, McCain has never been one to shy away from taking an independent stand.
I choose to believe he is appealing to who we know, deep down, we really are as Americans — even if we don’t want to admit it: Pioneers. Explorers. Innovators. Entrepreneurs.
We are still an incredibly young country, still learning how to make democracy work. We sure as hell don’t always get it right. It took a bloody war to get rid of slavery. It took a war of another kind to end segregation. And, sadly, we’re still struggling to treat each other with dignity and respect.
But we cannot let fear and irrationality hold sway. We cannot allow unreason to govern. No single man in any single office should ever be permitted to throw sand in the gears of what is still the American experiment.
I share the concerns of many about the President’s dangerous ignorance of the world, his diminishing — if not vacant — curiosity and his general disdain for any thoughtful, balanced approach to governance.
But if we pay heed to the words of leaders like John McCain, we’ll come out of all this stronger and better than we were before.