Memorial Day 2019 is past and the echo of Taps has faded away for those who never came home. This is a solemn occasion in which we honor our war dead each year, something we should always do with reverence and respect.
President Donald Trump was in Japan for the Memorial Day weekend. At the Yokosuka Navy base where he spoke aboard the amphibious assault ship, USS WASP, and where the USS JOHN S. MCCAIN (DDG-56), is homeported, an order was issued by an unknown person in the White House to cover up the name of the ship as Trump addressed sailors from other warships. None of the crewmembers of the MCCAIN were invited to attend the event.
The USS MCCAIN is named for the first father and son four star admirals in the U.S. Navy, both named John S. McCain. It was commissioned on July 2, 1994. On July 11, 2018, Senator John S. McCain’s name was added in a rededication ceremony. As most people know, Senator McCain was a Naval Academy graduate like his father and grandfather, and a prisoner of war during Vietnam.
The senior McCain served with distinction during World War II and received the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. He is in the historical photograph taken on September 2, 1945 on board the battleship USS MISSOURI in Tokyo Bay, where General Douglas MacArthur took the formal surrender of Japan. Four days after the photo was taken, McCain died.
His son, Senator McCain’s father, rose to become Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command while Senator McCain was being held and tortured by the North Vietnamese in the Hanoi Hilton. Admiral McCain was a submarine commander in World War II and earned the Silver and Bronze Stars during combat with the Japanese.
White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, downplayed the whole thing. He laid it off on a young White House staffer saying, “If a 23- or 24-year-old person says, ‘Look, is it really a good idea for this ship (USS MCCAIN) to be in the background?’ that is not an unreasonable question,” Mr. Mulvaney said on “Fox News Sunday,” adding, “We think it’s much ado about nothing.” President Trump said he knew nothing about it, but when informed characterized it as a well-meaning gesture.
Bad blood has existed between Trump and McCain since the 2016 election. Trump, who received a questionable deferment from the draft during Vietnam, mocked McCain for being captured and becoming a POW. When McCain died in 2018, he left instructions that Trump was not to be included in the guest list at his funeral. The whole country watched live coverage of the funeral, which included former presidents and other dignitaries---but no Trump---although some of Trump’s family members attended.
Bad blood in politics goes with the territory. Anyone who runs and/or holds a public office has to have the fortitude to take the shots, just and unjust, fair and unfair, and much worse. It’s the meanest and dirtiest “sport” by far and not for the faint-hearted. But crossing the line between bitter political differences to attacks on one’s military service, especially someone like Senator John McCain, crosses all lines and boundaries. It is like blasphemy in Christian doctrine, the one unpardonable sin.
I think it is fair to ask how a low-level White House staffer could have issued an order or even a request to cover up the name of the USS MCCAIN without it being reviewed at a higher level before going out. It suggests that the tone Trump has set allows for this kind of despicable behavior. As long as it comports with embarrassing or demeaning Trump’s enemies, it’s okay.
Senator McCain quietly seethed concerning Trump’s personal insults. Then in July 2017, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), also known as Trumpcare, passed the House. In the Senate it was going to be a close call, and McCain dramatically and literally voted no with a thumbs down gesture and thereby killed the bill. Trump and other Republicans denounced him for it, but overlooked is that Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) had also voted against it. Either one of these two senator’s votes could have resulted in a different outcome, but McCain gets the blame.
The AHCA was unpopular with most Americans, and the American Medical Association, among other professional groups, denounced it for a number of deficiencies. Despite McCain’s dramatic no vote, he had good reasons for turning it down. But with Trump’s name on the bill, like Obamacare, it became personal to Trump.
Then on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Trump couldn’t resist delivering personal attacks on Special Counsel (and decorated Marine Corps Vietnam Veteran) Robert Mueller and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi---using the American Cemetery at Normandy as the backdrop. Could Trump really be that shameless?
Even beyond the grave Trump can’t let go his animus toward McCain and the McCain family. That said, may the family name of McCain live on for all they have done for America. And may the Secretary of Navy strike Trump’s name from ever being considered for a U.S. Navy warship. It would dishonor all who wore the uniform.