A Better Man

Like many, I’ve been thinking a lot about John McCain today.

I’ve always admired him greatly but more so these past two years. In my eyes, more than anyone else, he epitomized a different political era; an era that feels much longer ago than it actually was. An era in which politicians ran and governed on the basis of principles, and in which those candidates and their principles were compared and evaluated and ultimately chosen between on the basis of many things, but always governed by some real notion of truth and fact.

I remember watching live the second 2008 Presidential debate when McCain was asked by multiple people in the audience — his own supporters — questions about candidate Obama that were based on false premises. Each time he not only corrected them but went on to genuinely defend his opponent’s character. It wasn’t politically calculated; if anything it was politically stupid. But I don’t think he could have done it differently if he had wanted to; he was hard-wired to guide the conversation away from ignorance and back to a truthful, objective baseline…even at his own expense.

It seemed noble yet unremarkable at the time. Ten years later, I yearn for anything that even resembles that debate. I yearn for any politician whose character even resemles that of John McCain’s.

I know neither Senator McCain nor the political environment in 2008 was anywhere near perfect, and I want to believe that other political eras were probably worse in some ways than they are today. But for the life of me I can’t think of a starker contrast to our 45thPresident than the man who sought to be our 44th.

Perhaps that’s why, of all of the Trump tweets, I may have been most fascinated by his attacks on McCain. They couldn’t have appealed to even the smallest part of Trump’s base so it became clear that they must have been borne out of Trump’s own insecurities.

I was thinking about that today, trying to make better sense of why our President has tried so hard to belittle this great man that the country is mourning. That led me to Google and for whatever reason the first term I decided to search was “Adult Bullies” (I guess we all grieve in different ways).

I clicked on the first link and what followed was so surreal I felt compelled to share.

It was as if the entire piece (which was written prior to 2016) and the research behind it was actually nothing more than a profile of two people: John McCain and Donald Trump.

This is the full piece but here’s an excerpt:

“A target of adult bullying is most often chosen because of their strength, not their weakness. Research shows that targets of bullying tend to have highly developed empathy, and sensitivity for others, a high degree of perceptiveness, high moral values, a well-developed integrity, a strong sense of fair play and reasonableness, a low propensity to violence, a reluctance to pursue grievance, disciplinary or legal action, a strong forgiving streak and a mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue. Often, targets of bullying are independent, self-reliant and “different” in some way. Weak people often disingenuously confuse these hallmarks of character with weakness.

The major triggers for bullying come from the bully’s own sense of inadequacy, according to research. Feeling envious and threatened by others with competence, integrity and popularity, the bully will project onto them their own inadequacy and incompetence, and often the bully will use their own behaviours and thoughts, attributing them to their target, to rally support for their “cause”. The inadequacy or envy of a bully is often translated into negative language used intentionally to completely diminish the target’s positive qualities, socially.”

When I read the first paragraph, I felt like I had just read John McCain’s epitaph; it’s uncanny:

Strength:

Tortured for 6 years only to return to his country and become one of its most dedicated and long-serving senators ever

High moral values and Sensitivity for others:

Willingly stayed a POW rather than leave his fellow soldiers

Strong sense of fair play and reasonableness:

Still my favorite McCain moment — the 2008 Presidential debate when he twice corrected the false premise of questions and defended Obama against boos from his own supporters

“A mature understanding of the need to resolve conflict with dialogue”:

One of the last true bi-partisans and giant of the senate

I could go on but I know I’m not able to do justice to the life of Senator John McCain. But I do know that these are the qualities of the type of person our country needs now more than ever.

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The second paragraph — the one describing the characteristics of the typical adult bully — is equally uncanny in how accurately it describes Trump. And while I’ll try to say as little as possible about him on a day when the focus should be about John McCain, I’ll make one inference from comparing the two profiles.

It seems to me that on some level, consciously or subconsciously, John McCain must have been the strongest, most impressive, most imposing person in the world to Donald Trump: A man who may never have achieved the same office, but who personified all of the qualities associated with that office more than perhaps anyone else alive.

Seen from the eyes of the second profile, those Tweets begin to become a little easier to understand.

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I’ve gone back and read that first paragraph — the one that seems like it was written to describe McCain himself— several times. The part that brings tears to my eyes every time is the very last descriptor:

“(A person who is) Independent, self-reliant and “different” in some way”

It turns out there’s a name for a person with all of those those qualities.

A Maverick.