Mourning the death of a single politician can shed light on the deep divide separating American society. It shows that the United States is in an unprecedented, unstable situation.
The funeral of U.S. Senator John McCain attracted politicians and dignitaries of diverse political stripes including former presidents Bill Clinton, the younger George Bush and Barack Obama, who hail from both the Democratic and Republican parties.
However, President Donald Trump, who had a tense relationship with McCain as fellow Republicans, reportedly was unwilling to show his condolences and chose not to attend the memorial. Instead, he went to play golf. Trump was not invited, according to the will of the deceased, said media reports. Was the president's decision to play golf on the day of McCain's funeral some form of retaliation?
McCain was seen as a hero in the United States for his perseverance during captivity involving torture by the North Vietnamese regime during the Vietnam War. He did not make it to the presidency despite his various attempts, but his stance of championing universal values such as human rights drew a substantial following.
Trump tried to erode McCain's popularity by asserting he was not a war hero. "He's a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren't captured," Trump said in 2015. It appeared like an emotional conflict between the two politicians, but a clash in values was at the foundation of the face-off -- traditional conservative politics represented by McCain, and the forceful pursuit of American interests led by Trump.
However, if McCain is not a hero despite risking his own life, the U.S. military and politics lose their basis. It has to be called childish that the American flag atop the White House was raised to full-staff less than 48 hours after the announcement of McCain's death -- perhaps as a reflection of Trump's will -- then returned to half-staff after intense criticism from Congress.
During the funeral, former president Obama, a Democrat, praised McCain as he advocated a free and independent press as vital to democratic debate. Former president Bush, a Republican, stated that McCain detested abuse of power and boastful oppressors. These remarks are most likely sarcasm aimed at Trump.
But we should most appreciate the words of McCain himself. "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe," he wrote in a message to the American public, reportedly from his death bed. "We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."
This letter is stern criticism against the politics of President Trump, who promotes abrasive diplomatic and trade policies without caring about the division of the world or tensions with allies. McCain's words tell us the importance of U.S. politics that is not tribal but considerate of a diverse world.