White House aide Kelly Sadler recently responded to Sen. John McCain's principled opposition to Gina Haspel, President Trump's nominee for CIA director. In an offensive remark that she later called a “joke,” Sadler dismissed McCain’s concerns saying "he's dying anyway.”
A graduate of the United States Naval Academy, McCain was almost killed during the Vietnam War when he was shot down over Hanoi. Over his five and a half years as a prisoner of war, despite episodes of torture, McCain refused an out-of-sequence early repatriation. He chose to stay with other imprisoned Americans, soldiers whose fathers – unlike his – could not pull strings.
The serious injuries McCain sustained during the war left him with lifelong physical disabilities. He cannot raise his arms above his shoulders and walks with an off-kilter gait. Now he has been diagnosed with a truly horrible brain cancer. He is indeed dying.
Against this backdrop, it is impossible to construe Ms. Sadler’s utterly insensitive and cruel statement as a “joke.” But we shouldn’t be surprised at this latest display of incivility. Vicious, ignorant rhetoric has become a hallmark of this White House. It started with the president, who set the tone for vile personal attacks from the outset of his presidential campaign. He has been the very model of a crude school-yard bully. It is not remarkable that his staff emulates him.
Trump, who repeatedly avoided military service due to supposed bone spurs, famously denied that McCain was a hero, sneering, “I like people that weren't captured." This hateful barb came from a man who never donned our nation’s uniform, who called himself a “brave soldier” for avoiding STDs and who compared the risks occasioned by his promiscuous sex life with the dangers of serving in Vietnam.
McCain’s politics, more often than not, are at odds with my own; but I would never, not for a second, deny that he is a hero and a patriot.
Trump and those in his administration who belittle Sen. McCain, and who, like General Kelly, approve the disparagement by their silence, have come to define what it means to be a Republican.
Somewhere, Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Ike Eisenhower are weeping.