It’s not often that I agree with Donald Trump about anything — in fact, this may be a first. But I was as startled as anyone else when, after the death of Sen. John McCain, certain TV networks, CNN in particular, essentially turned themselves into McCain TV, for days on end, with almost round-the-clock coverage of his life and career.
Yes, Mr. McCain, for all his faults (which he has famously and candidly admitted to) is deserving of a huge amount of respect for his service to our country, not least for what he endured during more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. But his career held examples of hewing to high standards, as well as failing to do so.
Oddly, for someone who knew the horrors of war so intimately, as a senator he never seemed to come across a military action he didn’t support, including Iraq II and Libya. (Full disclosure: I supported the 2003 Iraq war in this column, which I now regret.)
Then again, he adamantly opposed the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (translation: torture) by the U.S. against terrorists after 9/11.
The Keating Five scandal in 1989 was a career low point (although the Senate let him off with a verdict of “poor judgment”), as was the nasty 2000 presidential primary campaign he and George W. Bush waged against each other in South Carolina.
But Mr. McCain was a leader in supporting U.S. reconciliation with Vietnam, working with political opponent John Kerry, for which Vietnam was much more gracious last week than was the faint praise from the White House.
Pham Binh Minh, foreign minister of Vietnam: McCain “took the lead in significantly healing the wounds of war, and normalizing and promoting the comprehensive Vietnam-U.S. partnership."
Donald Trump, president of the United States: “We very much appreciate everything that Sen. McCain has done for our country.”
It was clear last week that Mr. Trump’s objection to the TV spectacle over Mr. McCain’s death was a continuation of his long feud with, and apparent hatred of, the senator; and that part of his chagrin was that the coverage of Mr. McCain was distracting attention from himself, specifically from his new trade deal with Mexico.
But the low point of this little imbroglio came when Mr. Trump, having (reluctantly) ordered the U.S. flag to half-staff in honor of McCain, still refused to let the flag on the White House itself to be lowered, until he caved in (reluctantly) to wiser heads on his staff.
That was a juvenile snit, unbecoming of the office. But that’s our president.
If we remember back to the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump called Mr. McCain a “loser” for failing to win the White House in 2008. Then he said he was not a war hero. Then he said, "He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."
Mr. Trump got away with that, but last week he wasn’t so lucky. Veterans groups were appalled — and said so. AMVETS National Executive Director Joe Chenelly: “The White House is openly showcasing its blatant disrespect for Sen. McCain’s many decades of service and sacrifice to our country as well as the service of all his fellow veterans.”
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.