While former presidents of the United States mourned Sen. John McCain Saturday morning, current President Donald Trump tweeted.
It was a stark contrast on a morning that pitted civility among even political rivals against the me-first mantra of the current administration.
“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse, can seem small and mean and petty, trafficking in bombast and insult, in phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” President Barack Obama said at the memorial service for McCain at the National Cathedral. “It’s a politics that pretends to be brave, but in fact is born of fear. John called us to be bigger than that. He called us to be better than that.”
President George W. Bush said McCain “detested the abuse of power. He could not abide bigots and swaggering despots.”
Meanwhile, Trump tweeted about “corrupt” news reporting, how Canada has “taken advantage of our Country for many years!” and the “fake dossier.” it was pretty standard stuff for him, particularly on a Saturday morning. By the time the former presidents spoke, Trump was playing golf.
But the contrast with what was going on at McCain’s service could not have been more stark.
The memorial was carried live by broadcast and cable-news networks, each of which had its own title for the coverage: “Honoring America’s Maverick” on CBS, “An American Hero” on ABC, “Remembering John McCain” on NBC and “The Funeral of John McCain” on both CNN and Fox News. That’s how you know they’re invested in a story.
Pundits noted repeatedly that everyone who was anyone in Washington, D.C., was there — everyone but Trump, though his daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, were in attendance.
A rebuke of Trump, without naming him
But it was McCain’s daughter Meghan whose words first lit up Twitter and then gave all the networks something to talk about as soon as the service was over: “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great.”
Those in attendance broke into applause at the clear rebuke of Trump — whose name wasn’t mentioned during the service. And every network brought her words up, most before McCain’s body was back at the funeral home.
More on McCain: Remembering John McCain: He embodied virtues like humaneness. Donald Trump … doesn’t.
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As a memorial service, it was quite moving. As a television event, it combined drama, humor and heartbreak — Cindy McCain resting her head on son Jack’s shoulder while opera singer Renee Fleming sang “Danny Boy” was immediately dubbed the “Danny Boy moment” on CNN.
The famous and the political mourn
After the service, the famous and powerful mingled. It wasn’t a surprise to see former Sen. John Kerry there, chatting with people, or former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (though both are Democrats, part of the political inclusiveness that was its own statement).
But it was kind of striking to see Jay Leno shaking hands with Warren Beatty. Of course, Beatty was a pallbearer, and McCain was a guest many times on “The Tonight Show” when Leno was the host. It was a reminder of McCain’s reach not just in political culture, but popular culture, as well.
Moments like that, many people noted, must drive Trump crazy.
It’s not as if McCain was a universally beloved figure — my Twitter feed currently is choked with detractors saying really ugly things about him. It’s hideous stuff, but it’s representative of a particular type of mindset.
A reminder of how to overcome our differences
But for all the swipes at Trump, the overall mood of the memorial was not one of division. It was, ultimately, a tribute to McCain, as it should have been. Obama noted that McCain wasn’t really much of a maverick, that he was a pretty reliably conservative Republican. Yet he also noted that he was willing to cross party lines when he thought it was important to do so.
Bob Schieffer, the longtime reporter and former anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” said that at his age (he’s 81), he’s been to a lot of funerals. When some end, you feel a little worse. But others, like this one, you leave feeling a little better.
McCain’s memorial ultimately served as a reminder of our differences, but also of how it’s possible to overcome them. It offered hope, Schieffer said. And isn’t that what memorials are supposed to do?
Bill Goodykoontz is a film critic and columnists at The Arizona Republic, where this column first appeared. You can follow him on Twitter: @goodyk.