Two former US presidents from opposing parties on Saturday united to honor late US senator John McCain, in a momentous funeral that championed his aspirations of political comity, but also rebuked the tribalism and division trafficked by US President Donald Trump.
As millions tuned in to the nationally televised memorial attended by the breadth of Washington powerbrokers, Trump himself was notably absent — leaving the capital to head to his golf club in Virginia just when eulogies to McCain were being delivered.
McCain’s family had made it clear that Trump was not welcome at the funeral.
While former Republican US president George W. Bush and former Democrat US president Barack Obama offered subtle swipes at Trump, McCain’s daughter, Meghan, used the words of Trump’s campaign slogan to deliver a searing, unmistakable rebuke.
“The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again, because America was always great,” she said, to extended applause.
As Bush and Obama praised McCain for repeatedly placing country over party or self, the stunning contrast between the unifying ceremony under the neo-Gothic arches of Washington National Cathedral and an outcast Trump only highlighted the astonishing state of US politics.
Hailing his friend as “an extraordinary man” who embodied what is best in the US, Obama said McCain, who battled fiercely, but respectfully in the political arena, “made us better presidents — just as he made the Senate better, just as he made the country better.”
He was echoing similar sentiments expressed minutes earlier by Bush, who defeated McCain in a “hard-fought” Republican primary battle in 2000, only to see that bitter rivalry melt away into a lasting friendship.
While Bush and Obama hail from different parties, their message was clear: US politics can and should rise to a higher level with the example set by McCain.
“We never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism — or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team,” Obama said of his rough, but respectful campaign battles with McCain.
So much of today’s politics, “our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult,” he added. “It’s a politics that pretends to be brave and tough, but in fact is born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that.”
McCain’s final public ceremony before his private burial yesterday at the US Naval Academy in nearby Annapolis, Maryland, highlighted the warrior politician’s call for healing.
“Perhaps above all John detested the abuse of power, could not abide bigots and swaggering despots,” Bush said as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, sat in attendance.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly were also present.
Additional reporting by AP
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