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    Call to Order: Reckoning with John McCain’s Last Stand

    By Andrea Shorter–

    On the same day that tributes were being paid to the lives of iconic American figures Aretha Franklin and U.S. Senator John McCain, ABC News released a national poll showing disapproval of the President of the United States plummeting to an all-time low.

    With 60% disapproving of his job performance and 63% supporting the Mueller investigation, numbers climbed to 49% in favor of his impeachment, giving some further inkling of hope for correcting a careening ship’s course towards calmer waters with a blue wave forecasted for the upcoming November elections.

    Alongside the voluminous respectful tributes and eulogies about the life and legacy of John McCain’s journey from a heroic Vietnam War prisoner of war to 35-year political career to becoming heralded as a Maverick and “Lion of the U.S. Senate,” we were also reminded of the less than ideal moments concerning the Republican Senator from Arizona.

    His involvement as one of the Keating Five senators, who worked to cover for corrupt banking practices of heavyweight campaign contributor Charles Keating’s failed Lincoln Savings and Loan debacle of the 1980s, and his initial expressed objections to creating a national Martin Luther King, Jr., Day were perhaps the initial episodes in which the Senator’s long tenure would become noticeably marred.

    As a self-described imperfect man who strove to live up to his Naval and personal creed of honor and valor in public service, McCain was also known to own up to his own regrettable mistakes and actions that fell painfully short of his creed.

    McCain’s introduction of Sarah Palin, the former Governor of Alaska, as his running mate in his last bid for the Presidency against Barack Obama in 2008 would perhaps become his most regrettable, grievous act. Palin’s stir up of extreme right, hyper-partisanship rooted in racially divisive grievances and resentment served handily to pave the path towards the ugly populism that eventually prevailed towards the ascendency of Donald Trump’s harshly definitive post-Obama Presidency.

    Palin’s “going rogue” would not only overshadow and further his second bid into ruin, but it would also most tragically cast a pall on his legacy as having helped Trump become President. McCain’s understanding of, and reckoning with, his role in this darkest turn of events were evident in his end of life redemptive attempts to right the ship away from the titanic gale forces consuming his party, the Presidency, the rule of law and the fate of the nation.

    McCain’s last gasp attempts to rally the Congress’ return to a much reminisced, yet valued, bi-partisanship to wrestle away from Trump’s dictatorial death grip stranglehold around the neck of American political discourse, democratic principles and destiny were literally and tactically expressed all the way to his grave. The five-day funeral procession was carefully detailed and planned by the Senator to amplify his call to action by flanking his expected tributes with the delivery of eulogies by his contenders in former Presidents Bush and Obama, the selection of pallbearers to include Russian dissident Vladimir Vladimirovich Kara-Murza, and pointedly to disinvite the grossly personally and politically offensive sitting President of the U.S.

    It was McCain’s simple call to return to an idyllic, civil bi-partisan adherence to functional and institutional democratic process, robust vetting of legislative proposals and resolutions, and compromise that remain most perplexing. As a conservative, McCain’s own record did reflect his maverick work across the aisle ways with votes landing about 60/40 in the respective conservative and liberal columns. On balance, McCain the maverick might have therefore actually proved to have walked the talk of bi-partisanship.

    Still, striking legislative and political compromise in these pivotal, dark days calls for dig-deep heroic and willful might to push into balance on axis against the gravitational pull of an unabashed overt demagogue who admires, and aspires to establish, a wholly anti-democratic dictatorial reign and rule.

    What compromises are to be expected with a party bowed to the rule of order that traffics in blatant racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, isolationism, nationalism and fascism? What compromises will result from the likely seating of a Supreme Court justice nominee poised to turn back the clock on civil and human rights, women’s reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, workers’ rights, and environmental justice for the next 40 plus years? What possibilities for civil discourse on such essential matters to living in an increasingly racially diverse society can be realistically expected under a President whose disdain for inclusion and relish for stoking division play to, cater to and prey upon the fears and hatefulness of a minor, yet eagerly enthralled and delusional, threatened base?

    Within just a few days of McCain’s death, gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, candidate for U.S. Senate, won their Democratic party primaries in their respective states of Florida and Arizona. I had the pleasure of getting acquainted with both Gillum and Sinema through our shared or common fellowships at the Harvard Kennedy School, and remain in eager and high hopes for their bids for higher office. Both are branded as new wave Democrats, with each in their own way embodying diverse demographics by age, race and sexual orientation that should be represented in elected office.

    Within 24 hours of Gillum’s upsetting win, his GOP opponent, a devoted Trump devotee, on a national news broadcast quite speedily cast a race-baiting, dog-whistle warning to the Florida electorate not to “monkey this up” by affording Gillum a November win. Per usual in these shameless cases of dog-whistling, Ron DeSantis and his team dismissed the statement as being misconstrued as racist, as it was apparent that he was warning against the progressive, socialist policies of Gillum, and not a statement about him as a Black man.

    Really? Such is the reality of the atmosphere and context within which McCain’s rally towards civility in political discourse and return to robust democratic debate and process now resides.

    Upon the death of deemed heroic political figures, the prose of tribute and praise of famous men can be prone to nostalgia, idealization and even absolution of less than perfect men and women whose histories were replete with contradictory, contrarian and even gravely regrettable, imperfect actions while declaratively striving to make a more perfect union for us all. Perhaps such is particularly expected in the case with John McCain.

    No one action or inaction should rest as the sum of any person’s life. McCain’s better moment and reveal of someone who at least strove to be as a man of honor was when he grabbed the mic away from audience members during a campaign tour town hall. Expressing their fears and prejudices against his opponent, Barack Obama, as an “Arab” and danger to America, he made a choice: allow this racist rant and hatred to fester as a boon to his campaign (as Trump would eventually and opportunistically do), or stand up against it.

    By defending his opponent as a “decent family man” with whom he just happened to “disagree on issues,” he attempted to steer the ship away from a course clearly sailing towards deep, dark and troubling waters. The tempest in the tidal wave that was to become a Trump Presidency might not have been easily predictable then, but the forecast and warning bells were there—the ship was careening into a fatal colossal collision of Titanic proportion.

    Perhaps his stance in those moments against the hate and fear of a Black President was not only in defense of Obama, and in defense of whom he believed himself to be, but also in defense and protection of what he at least idealized as the bigger and better of whom we should all be as a democratic nation.

    McCain’s noble call for bi-partisan civility is most certainly worth fighting for. Civility without surrendering to compromise on hard-fought civil and human rights, principles of inclusion and equality that are the life’s blood, soul, courage and honor of a truly thriving democracy against the madness of demagoguery is the brutal, bloody fight, call to order and call to duty we must now survive—and prevail.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A Co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.