I’ve always done my best to avoid defining myself politically, as I feel it does more harm than good, but let’s put it this way: you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would label me “conservative” on most major issues. And while I like to think I associate with people that represent a healthy mix of positions on the political spectrum, an undeniable majority of those close to me are squarely on the left.
Senator John McCain, on the other hand, was a fixture of the Republican Party and a consistent conservative — on almost every issue, McCain and I fundamentally disagreed. Not going so far as to revel in someone’s death, perhaps I should be grateful that a powerful adversary to many of the causes I am active in is gone.
McCain, however, represented positive ideals once central to American politics: discourse, collaboration and respect. His loss comes at a point in our history in which political opposites feel and act like enemies rather than compatriots, and in which disagreements seemingly cannot be reconciled through any amount of work or good intention.
It is no secret that the two-party system not only narrows the conversation to those on the extremes of the spectrum, but is itself polarizing us beyond what is natural. Discourse makes for stronger policy, forcing lawmakers to defend their logic and back assertion with fact. We are quickly spiraling further into a flawed system in which the only voice is that of the majority, who feels they needn’t concern themselves with the healthy challenge of respectful disagreement.
The successful American politician in 2018 is not only the one most extreme in their positions, but also the one that most effectively paints their opponents as villains.
In comparison to a president who plays into the depraved, racist lies about his predecessor, McCain personally defended Barack Obama countless times, insisting that the debate stay isolated to the issues at hand.
During their campaigns for the 2008 election, McCain and Obama engaged in passionate, raucous, at times contentious, debate expressing their disagreement on almost every topic; ten years later, facing death, McCain asked his old adversary to deliver a eulogy at his funeral. Obama did so on Saturday.
So, was McCain any more an “enemy” to me than those who agree with me on every issue, but are unwilling to engage in discussion or consider the point of view of half the country? As a political scientist, an advocate and activist, a citizen, and a person, I say no — Senator McCain was someone actively trying to do the right thing in the right ways, and was a necessary challenge to strengthen even the movements he disagreed with.
No one will soon forget his famous vote against the “skinny repeal” of Obamacare, or his many other instances of putting country over party. The reactions across my own community and around the country clearly showcase that I am far from alone in this conclusion; nearly everyone I know that is even mildly invested in politics publicly mourned McCain on the day he died.
The optimist in me says that perhaps these small gestures of recognition mean we have not fallen off the precipice quite yet; if we are still able to mourn Senator McCain, it might just mean we are also still able to conduct ourselves like him when disagreement stands to divide us.
Gabby Rivera is a freelance news reporter for the Daily Lobo. The opinions reflected in this editorial are her own. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @gabbychlamps.