OPINION: Reactions to McCain’s death show we need more humanity in politics

Sen. John McCain attends the 129th National Guard Association of the United States General Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on Aug. 25, 2007. (Courtesy photo by Staff Sgt. Jim Greenhill via U.S. Army)

On Friday, the family of Republican senator John McCain said he was ending treatment for the brain cancer that had been slowly killing him for over a year.

Unfortunately, news broke on Saturday that the former presidential hopeful and Vietnam War hero had died in his Arizona home at the age of 81.

I found the news quite shocking. I thankfully haven’t had much personal experience with cancer, but I didn’t think he would die so soon after the announcement that he was ending treatment.

What was equally shocking to me was how people from all political walks of life came together to sing the praises of McCain in the wake of his passing.

Democrats and Republicans alike from the House and the Senate have expressed regret over his passing. Even former president Barack Obama, who won the presidency over McCain in 2008, shared his sincerest condolences.

“Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did,” Obama said, referring to McCain’s five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.”

Where has this been? Why has bipartisan respect and understanding left the political sphere in the 2010s, and why did it take someone’s demise to bring it back, if only for a moment?

One of the many reasons I’m not affiliated with any political parties is because I’ve grown tired of the childish name calling in the capitol buildings around the country. There’s too much talking and not enough listening; not enough people see the value in understanding why political opponents believe what they do, and America suffers for it.

With that said, I’m sad to see McCain go because I think he was one of the good ones.

Snarky internet commenters have wasted no time in attacking and satirizing McCain while he isn’t here to defend himself. I suppose it has always been easier to beat a horse when it’s dead.

Jokes about McCain’s political history, attacks on his character and jabs at his surviving family seem to be commonplace when I venture into the far left side of Twitter. Unsurprisingly, all the bitterness seems to be coming from relative nobodies.

I’m not a political scientist — or a political anything, really — but I don’t think this kind of snide, dismissive behavior toward dead politicians is conducive to a better democracy.

Every senator in Congress represents millions of people in the government, and they can’t be a perfect politician for everyone. Being mad about it is a waste of energy. It’s impossible for 100 percent of represented citizens to be satisfied, so we may as well get over it now and learn to improve the country through compromise.

That’s the key word, really: compromise.

I think one of the reasons McCain has been so lauded in death by fellow politicians is because he showed through his actions that he believed bipartisan politics were vital for a healthy democracy.

When potential voters expressed concerns to him in 2008 about the ridiculous assertion that Obama was a Muslim terrorist, McCain said many times that it wasn’t true and he respected Obama as a good man who he happened to disagree with. In hindsight, this may have lost McCain votes by painting his opponent in a positive light, but that wasn’t the goal — integrity was.

McCain even made headlines in recent years by going against the wishes of his own party because he thought it was the right thing to do. Considering President Donald Trump’s comments on McCain during the campaign trail, I can hardly blame him.

He’s not a war hero,” Trump said. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

McCain narrowly survived five years of torture by North Vietnamese who wanted him to confess military secrets. Meanwhile, Trump was deferred from the draft five times while he was living large on the East Coast.

The two men were at odds until the bitter end. McCain was firmly critical of Trump’s every move, notably calling his dealings with Russian president Vladimir Putin “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory” in July.

Unsurprisingly, Trump released a statement on Sunday that mentioned none of this.

“My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain,” Trump said on Twitter. “Our hearts and prayers are with you!”

While McCain voted for many things I disagree with and probably hurt a lot of people by doing so, the unfortunate reality is that every politician will hurt people at some point. It’s the nature of the job, and anyone who’s ever held a leadership position knows how much it can hurt. You can’t possibly make everyone’s lives better.

As an American citizen, I lament McCain’s passing because I think it represents the death of compromise. His voting record be damned, he was one of the few senators who wanted to understand what was happening on the other side of the aisle.

Even in death, McCain is a bipartisan champion compared to his fellow politicians. He requested that Obama and former president George W. Bush give eulogies at his funeral. Two parties coming together, if only for a moment.

I can only hope that other men and women in the U.S. Congress will fill the void left in McCain’s wake and remember what it means to see eye-to-eye. America needs that now more than ever.

Kyle Hampel is the community editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I am a 2019 graduate in English. I have strong feelings about barbeque pizza and the Oxford comma. I am a former copy chief, community editor, feature editor, designer and deputy multimedia editor. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.