I first remember being aware of John McCain when I was impressed by his speech to the 1988 GOP convention. He was the first politician I ever gave money to, during the 2000 primaries. Over the years he was as likely to frustrate and anger me as he was to do something I admired. His speech on torture I play in my ethics classes when we discuss respect for human dignity after reading Immanuel Kant.
This weekend generated some very good articles about him and his funeral (and Aretha's too).
This article at the Guardian was quite good in discussing the complexity of his legacy. I felt it was in bad taste for it to be published before the funeral--they should have waited till this week. But the article is, nonetheless, good and accurate, I believe.
This CNN article discussed both major funerals--Aretha's and McCain's--and what meaning we could take from them. The references to Pericles at the beginning remind you of the importance that a public funeral can play for a society. Excerpts:
While McCain's funeral recalled Eurocentric classical traditions (Athenian democracy, after all, did not extend to women and slaves), Franklin's evoked the scores of civil rights funerals at which she had sung, or at which her father had preached.
***There was one further question hanging in the air this weekend. Where do we go from here? Could we ever see Obama, Dyson and Williams organizing in the same civil rights movement? A rallying cry for voter registration is at least a start. At McCain's commemoration, former Presidents from the GOP and the Democratic Party were able to give speeches touching on the same virtues of civility and political self-sacrifice.But on the frontlines of this November's election battles, the tone is still set by Donald Trump and his Twitter feed. To many American voters, the very bipartisanship of Saturday's gathering at the National Cathedral will testify to the herd mentality of a Washington elite.Pericles had an advantage. If we believe his biographer, the historian Thucydides, his listeners shared his definition of his nation's values. They just needed an eloquent reminder. The broken body of Emmett Till exposed an evil so explicit that its presence in America could no longer be denied. But it is not clear that the vast TV audiences for Aretha Franklin's homegoing are all on the same page about racial justice. Nor that the millions who watched John McCain's funeral share his vision for America. Meanwhile, to many voters elsewhere in America, unity looks like weakness.
And the New Yorker reflected on the civil religion aspect of McCain's funeral, as it considered him "Americanism's High Priest."
Sublime happiness and metaphysical enlargement, achieved through the transcendence of self, are promises usually reserved for divine, not patriotic, worship, and McCain’s invocation of liberty, justice, and respect reads like the Jeffersonian shadow of St. Paul’s list of virtues: faith, hope, and love. He was an understated Protestant, not given to much mention of the Biblical God, but, when we understand Americanism as a church, we can see the true McCain, as religious a figure as has lately crossed the national stage.
This, I think, is the key to interpreting McCain’s funeral.
But this the article's dark conclusion:
But for all of the scorn heaped on Trump—whose name was never mentioned outright—there were questions left unanswered at the service. First: Is it really possible for a person to rise to power in a country with which he has absolutely nothing in common? Isn’t it more likely that Trump, whose most fervent devotees are white evangelicals and proponents of the fraudulent prosperity gospel, is just as archetypically American as McCain, embodying an alternative set of equally real national principles: anxious acquisitiveness, a distaste for deep thought, endless aggrandizement?
Then, too: Even if the American religion is good, and inclusive of certain eternal truths, if it can be thrown so quickly into crisis, turned so violently on itself, how sturdy was it, really?
My favourite parts of the funeral were actually when the words of the Episcopal ceremony were read about him, the same words read about every departing Christian. This was a reminder that these same words are said about both the simple and the great, a truly Christian message. So, I was most annoyed when the online footage from NBC I watched on Monday (on Saturday, the day after my step-father's death, I had not been in the mood to watch the funeral) ended with annoying historians and political commentators talking over the clergy's close of the service. How incredibly disrespectful, as the service was not over, yet they seemed to think the religious words unimportant, a clear sign of the degradation of the nation and their fundamental misunderstanding that this was a worship service, not merely an act of civil religion.