Consider two scenarios. An America without John McCain ever having lived, and an America in which John McCain was elected to higher office than the Senate.
The former would have made for a poorer nation, stripped of the gallantry, honour and principle which he exhibited in its service, and by extension the special relationship would have been weaker without a steadfast advocate of close alliance in the defence of freedom.
The latter would arguably have made for a stronger and better respected America, as a lynchpin of the free world. In 2000, his party passed up the opportunity to present him to their country as a potential president, and in so doing set the circumstances which made for his rejection for the role eight years later. Counter-factuals can never be certain, and his hypothetical presidency would not have changed everything – McCain was, of course, a prominent advocate of the Iraq War – but it isn’t hard to see the ways, as a strong advocate for defence but also a champion of civil liberties, in which he would have been well-suited to steering his country through the darkness of 9/11.
It was not to be. And yet he continued to serve the United States and the values he believed it was made to champion until his dying day. Recently doing so necessitated pitching himself against a President of his own party. From their temperaments to their attitudes to the thug in the Kremlin, it would be hard to imagine a more drastic contrast between two individuals.
Donald Trump’s decision to mock McCain’s capture, and by extension his ensuing torture, in Vietnam characterised the gulf between them, and illustrates to some extent what has passed away and what now takes its place. That there are so few candidates to step up and take on his role is a reminder of the sorry, cowed state of freedom-loving Republicanism in America.
No-one is perfect, and no-one should pretend that anybody is so. Certainly the man himself was up-front about his mistakes. He asked two things for his legacy, and it seems to me that he more than earned the right to both of them: he served his country, honourably.
And in so doing, he also served the free world.
How do you want the American people to remember you?
“He served his country,” Senator John McCain said with a smile in 2017 pic.twitter.com/h0dZkzE3jW
— The Lead CNN (@TheLeadCNN) August 24, 2018