On honoring a political adversary

On honoring a political adversary

I've been writing and rewriting this piece since last Saturday. I've been thinking on it, cognizant of what this blog is and my responsibility to it. It seems that in these fraught times, differences are exploded to existential levels. And, considering the enemy we face, this is understandable.

Senator John McCain passed into his quietus last Saturday. I present President Barack Obama's statement on that passing.

Senator McCain, after his defeat by Pres. Obama, was a burr in his side. He didn't reach out across the aisle. He didn't seek to reunite a divided America. He was, at best, recalcitrant, at worst, obstructionist. I remember him as one of Obama's most vociferous adversaries.

And yet, Barack Obama was asked by Sen. McCain to deliver a eulogy.

As you read this piece, Pres. Obama will deliver words which will soothe and uplift. It's what he does. And he's doing it, as I said, for a man who was bitter towards him, who felt, from the evidence, that his due was withheld from him. He did not bridge the divide he had aided engendering. For all his protestations of independence, he fell into lockstep with the Republican Party in its attempt to make Pres. Obama a "one term president". After the shock of his death wears off, history will judge him for his actions.

And yet, Pres. Obama issued this statement, this expansive, embracing statement. And Sen. McCain has Pres. Obama as one of his eulogists.

Our very own Nancy the Artist wrote a while ago about grace.

As someone raised in the Catholic tradition, "grace" is a consternation. It's something granted only by God. And yet, at the same time, it's something you can earn, by diligence, by self-abnegation, by humility.

Grace is humility. Grace is the gift which allows you to accept others where they are, rather than where you'd like them to be. This isn't an excuse to be a punching bag; grace doesn't require you to accept the unacceptable, to tolerate intolerance. But it does allow you to take people of goodwill at face value, to accept that you may have differing opinions, but you're children of the same universe.

What Barack Obama and John McCain have done is confer grace on each other. They were adversaries, forceful ones. But at the end, they accepted each others' humanity. They saw what was good in each other. The disagreements fade away in the fire of life, and what is left is the pure essence.

When Pres. Obama gets up at the funeral and orates his liturgy, it will be a moment when a foe recognizes his adversary's humanity. For McCain's transition will be Obama's, as will it be all of ours. We are not immortal. What will live on after us are our words and actions. Better to be thought of well than ill. 

Grace is something lacking in our culture. We are a society which judges immediately and harshly. I'm guilty of that.

This isn't to say that some things don't need to be judged immediately and harshly. These are not hard and fast rules. But if those now ensnared by Donald Trump's dark song were to stop and consider that you and I are no less human, no less American than they are, Trump would have no purchase.

I am not sanguine that John McCain's funeral will bring about an efflorescence of a grace long missing from our political discourse. Trump will be Trump, and his party will follow in lockstep out of fear for their immediate futures, damn that of the country. But I don't trim my sails to the prevailing winds. I will honor Sen. McCain, though I disagreed with him vehemently. I will honor the example set out by Pres. Obama. I will offer grace because it's my gift to offer, unbidden, of my free will. I will be decent, because decency is so lacking in these, our latter days.


Addendum

Here is Pres. Obama's eulogy for John McCain.



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