The past 10 days have seen an extraordinary spectacle around the death of Senator John McCain. The press gave a remarkable celebration of McCain’s entire life and character and implicitly, as well as in some instances explicitly, contrasted this with Trump. There was a weeklong series of commemorations, in different parts of the country. McCain himself planned his own funeral right down to the music. The biggest thing of all was McCain’s refusal to invite Trump to participate AND his invitations—delivered personally—to Barack Obama and George W. Bush (who each had serious differences with McCain and still have real and sharp differences with each other) to give the principal speeches. These speeches themselves, without mentioning Trump by name, drew very sharp and all-but-explicit contrasts with him.
What was going on here? Why did it happen? And what is its significance for the interests of humanity? Three things in those regards:
1) The Celebration of a War Criminal, the Reversal of Correct Verdicts
If you tuned in to the media last week, there could be no escaping “the saga of John McCain.” A rowdy in high school, he then went into the Navy and flew combat missions above Vietnam. After flying 23 of those missions, he was shot down. He was, by his account, tortured in the prisons of Vietnam. This, we were told, tempered him and he came back a man dedicated to serving his country.
What is wrong with this picture? The war in Vietnam was a criminal enterprise in which the United States slaughtered over three million people who were basically fighting for national self-determination and against American domination. As was exposed at the time, the missions flown by people like McCain not only bombed military installations but hospitals, schools, and all kinds of civilian targets. Far more bombs were dropped on Vietnam than by all sides in the entirety of World War 2, and these bombs wreaked horrific damage. In addition, the U.S. dropped the defoliant Agent Orange, which had the effect of depriving people of food and poisoning the countryside for generations—resulting in birth defects and deaths to this day.
How is any of this heroic or anything other than despicable? In actual fact, people like John McCain were war criminals. Many, many people once knew that, in part because some of the soldiers who participated in that war came back to tell the truth about what they had done. But many of those who did once know this have either “forgotten” it or had their understanding sanded down by the relentless campaigns of the ruling class (including through lionizing unapologetic war criminals like McCain), and many younger people have no real idea. So one part of the celebration of McCain was to hammer in a different and very wrong verdict on that war: that “fighting in Vietnam was right and noble and opposing the war was wrong, nothing more to be said.”
2) Seeking to Define the Acceptable Parameters of Resistance
These commemorations, ceremonies, and press campaigns were, in part at least, aimed at defining for the anti-Trump masses HOW one should approach the resistance, other injustices, and life in general. Trump’s selfishness, greed, open racism, misogyny, and crude chauvinism was endlessly (sometimes openly, sometimes not) contrasted with what was portrayed as “McCain’s life of sacrifice, risk, and work for country.” The point very explicitly being made, over and over again and in the entire symbolism and ceremony surrounding McCain’s death, was that there was nothing better you could do or aspire to than to dedicate yourself to a life of service (whether military, government, or in civic life) and serve country and flag with principle and integrity, defend the Constitution and Bill of Rights, and all the institutions that have made America “great” and contributed to its primacy in the world… that Trump is trampling on. To translate, by all means hate and oppose what Trump is and what he represents—but do so only on the basis of über-patriotism and loyal service to this oppressive empire!
3) A Clarion Call to Whatever Ruling Class Figures Could Be Enlisted to “Rescue the Republic”
This is the most significant, and likely the driving force behind the elements of this McCain memorial campaign. Clearly McCain himself saw it that way, in the ways he very consciously set up the entire thing. McCain was issuing not just a final rebuke to Trump but even more so, a clarion and bipartisan call to all those in ruling circles who could be brought to stand publicly against Trump: by attending the funeral to which Trump was pointedly NOT invited; by setting aside their partisan differences on this day for a higher purpose; and in doing so giving collective voice to McCain’s agenda of rallying all who could be rallied (in ruling circles) to do something about Trump, to defend the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and defend all the traditional norms, values, policies, and institutions that, as McCain would likely have said, have served America so well and for so long, and the propagation of which has served America’s dominant position in the world especially since the end of World War 2.
Every single ruling class figure who spoke—and this included people like Henry Kissinger, former Vice President Joe Biden, and others—made generally indirect but crystal clear allusions to how unacceptable the current president and his policies are (and this was reinforced in media coverage). McCain’s distraught daughter extensively memorialized her father through personal anecdotes and copious tears but went stone cold and dry-eyed in an instant when she proclaimed the anti-Trump takeaway point of the day: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America’s always been great!”—which was met with thunderous applause echoing through the National Cathedral.
What a remarkable parade of ghouls rising to the defense of this monstrous system and its particular expression in U.S. imperialism! Kissinger—whose list of crimes in the service of U.S. imperialism stretches from turning Indochina into an even worse slaughterhouse to supporting and conniving with bloody military coups, tyrants, and thugs in Latin America, southern Africa, and the Middle East—spoke of a much needed moment of unity and of the importance of law, and of honor. Bush spoke of “swaggering despots and bigots” and everyone knew who he was talking about. Obama made clear his tremendous differences with McCain but used this as a call to set aside differences to stand together because “we are all on the same team” against what was clearly understood to be a greater danger to their system.
There was much talk about how McCain truly believed all men are created equal; how he cared about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the rule of law, the separation of powers, the importance of a free press and of immigration reform… and that he urged the present “parade of noble statesmen” (!) to recognize that, to quote Obama, “some principles transcend politics, some values transcend party”; that McCain, like JFK and Reagan before him, understood that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
We should recognize, as we have sharply brought to light here and elsewhere on revcom.us, what is the ugly reality of this system as well as the limitations of bourgeois democratic ideals. Yet, that same scientific approach should also lead us to understand that the proclamation of these ideals by a section of the ruling class who are opposing Trump and his program is not mere hypocrisy, but are for some deep and sincerely held beliefs.
They believe and seek to rally their class (including a core instrument of their rule, the military, which was in full effect at McCain’s funeral), as well as the people more broadly, to their real conviction that the system of capitalism/imperialism is the best possible system, that the United States is the best country in the world, that it fully deserves to be #1 in the world, and that its institutions and foundational values are so inherently superior that they can serve as a beacon and model for all of humanity, and that it is therefore completely justified to defend these institutions and values and spread them throughout the world—by “moral example” when possible but certainly by aggressive force whenever necessary!
That we have seen such a “unified”—at least for a moment—pageant of this viewpoint, in opposition to what the Trump/Pence regime represents to what has been the dominant section of rulers at the top of this system, who see in Trump”s regime only disaster for their system, is further compelling evidence that this is a deep and serious fight—not just over policy but over what principles are needed to cohere, protect, and project their empire. Such sharpening struggles at the top of the ruling class not only condition the overall terrain on which we must lead the masses of people to fight in their own interests—to build a movement for a revolution for a radically new system as well as to drive out the Trump/Pence regime, but also contain potential for those struggles. These profound differences can potentially lead to major fissures through which the struggle against this regime and the system can advance.
Revolution newspaper/revcom.us, the voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, provides the foundation, guideline, and organizational scaffolding for the whole process of carrying out our strategy for revolution. Through publishing works of Bob Avakian, and through many different articles, interviews, letters, graphics, and other features, Revolution enables people to really understand, and act to radically change, the world.
Originally published at https://revcom.us/a/559/the-three-purposes-of-the-funerals-of-john-mccain-en.html