Opinion: What Do McCain's Final Words Say About Him?


One’s choice of words, uttered just before the spirit leaves the body, can often tell us what was most important in life to the dying man.

Lying on his deathbed on July 4, 1826, 92-year-old John Adams uttered his final words, “Thomas Jefferson still survives.” Jefferson’s last words were spoken late on July 3rd when he awakened from his sleep and asked, “Is this the Fourth?” then returned to his sleep and died the next day on the Fourth of July.

Adam’s final words were a proclamation that, even though he was dying, his great friend Jefferson from the glorious years of the founding of the great republic was still alive. He could have said anything — but approaching the final moments of his life his most prominent thoughts were on his friend Thomas Jefferson. This tells us something incisive about the man, John Adams.

With Jefferson, his final thoughts were on the most treasured creation of his life, the Declaration of Independence, and of the special day set aside for the entire nation to commemorate it. As with Adams, Jefferson’s last words are also a window into Thomas Jefferson, the man.

At the Arizona State Capitol on Monday, Rick Davis, John McCain’s former campaign manager and family spokesperson, read McCain’s final written words before his death. These last words can give us a glimpse into who McCain, the man, really was and what was foremost on his mind as the end of his life approached.

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Nearly all McCain’s final words are very positive. They express profuse gratitude to his fellow Americans and his fellow Arizonians for their support and good works.

He describes the wonderful and blessed life that was graciously bestowed upon him.

Only two of his final passages were directed toward specific individuals in his life and they could not be more disparate.

In the first passage, McCain expresses his profound love for his wife and his children. But the extraordinary second passage is written for just one man: Donald Trump.

With these final words, McCain totally abandons the positive and loving tone of the foregoing testament. This message to Trump is clearly intended to be a negative and derogatory shot at him.

“We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all 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.”

This extraordinary and incongruous message to Trump gives us pause to reflect on what it tells us about the man, McCain.

To begin with, it appears to show us that despite the glowing accolades being presently bestowed upon him for his outstanding statesmanship and character, McCain may have been a much different man.

McCain’s words show us a man who was consumed by such a loathing of Trump that he continued to carry it to his grave.

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This posthumous message belies his often-praised willingness to put his personal feelings aside and “reach across the aisle” for the good of the country.

This was his chance to rise above the pettiness and bickering of political life and show his magnanimity to the rest of the world, as Sarah Palin did after the derogatory attack on her by McCain in his book about his presidential run. But McCain instead chose to use his final words to express his burning hatred of Trump and take his revenge against him.

The words McCain specifically chose to use against Trump show us his true political heart. He tells us that those who are Trump supporters are “tribal” in nature and have caused resentment, hatred and violence around the world.

McCain tells us where he really stands on illegal immigrants by saying we weaken the greatness of our country when we build a wall, and that we should be tearing down the “walls” that impede illegal aliens from entering our country keeping them from becoming U.S. citizens — something he wholeheartedly supported during his life, alongside his ally, George W. Bush.

McCain tells us that we should not doubt the power of our “ideals,” referring to the usual business of Washington politics being dismantled by Trump, and that we should put trust in them as the great force for change.

The testamentary message of McCain shows us that he never was a true Republican and did not support many core conservative principles. It shows us that he loved the old-fashioned plantation life of Washington, D.C. where the aristocratic senators ruled the county, unimpeded by the riffraff from their home districts, about whom they need only bother-with during an election year.

When a crude outsider named Trump came along and began dismantling this elegant, comfortable life of unlimited power and luxury, it was more than John McCain could take and he proclaimed a profound hatred for the man.

His hate became nearly pathological when Trump fought back against McCain’s very public denunciation of him by proclaiming he was not a “war hero.”

This was last straw for the regal McCain. How dare this rich commoner belittle the label he had so embraced to the extent of it becoming a birthright to him. With this assault on his deeply-held self-image, McCain swore revenge against Trump and worked vociferously to undermine his presidency during his life, then continued it beyond his death.

Some look at this posthumous attack by McCain as a “cheap shot,” because he would not be around when it would be delivered and he knew Trump would be silenced by the public adoration he knew would come with his passing. And this has come to pass.

So, what do McCain’s final words say about him? One small passage within a rather long and unremarkable posthumous message serves to tear-off the mask and show us a person much different than being publicly portrayed by a loud chorus of eulogists.

In McCain’s final words he says that he has had a lot of regrets in his life. It just may turn out that this small, bitter, unbecoming, testamentary passage against Trump will become a posthumous regret that could end-up tainting the legacy McCain worked so hard to construct.

Terry Ray is a professor of law, Emeritus. He is now a full-time novelist for Sunbury Press.

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