The Slatest

John McCain’s Final Statement Takes Not-So-Veiled Shots at Trump and White Supremacists

A reflection of people looking at the front page of the Arizona Republic with a picture of John McCain
People are reflected as they look at the front page of the Arizona Republic featuring a picture of late Sen. John McCain at the Newseum in Washington on Monday. Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

John McCain’s flair for the dramatic extended past his own death. The late senator’s longtime aide Rick Davis read a final statement Monday written by McCain soon before his passing that side-eyed President Donald Trump and his nationalist movement.

The statement included valedictory remarks looking back on his tumultuous and eventful life along with what, in more normal times, would seem like anodyne statements about American ideals that today can only be read as criticisms of President Trump. “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil,” McCain wrote, rejecting a specific rallying cry beloved by white supremacists.

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been.”

While it’s not wrong to read this as a criticism of Trump, McCain also seemed to address a broader swath of his own political party and avidly pro-Trump conservatives in the media:

We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.

This was not the first time McCain had expressed this expansive, idealistic patriotism in contrast to what he saw as more small-minded nationalists. In a speech that many saw as a farewell that he gave at the National Constitution Center in October, McCain gave a more elaborate description of his ideas of what patriotism was and was not.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

That speech, which also condemned “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,” was seen widely at the time as a shot at Trump. Some things never change, dead or alive.