Understanding why Trump loathes John McCain

The guided missile destroyer USS John S. McCain, “Big Bad John,” was christened in 1992 in honor of the U.S. Navy’s first father-son duo of four-star admirals, “Slew” and Jack. On July 12, 2018, their son and grandson respectively, retired Navy captain and U.S. Sen. John S. McCain III was added to the official namesake of that Navy ship in a ceremony in Yokosuka, Japan. This American destroyer and its crew, as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Rebecca Ballhaus and Gordon Lubold, were told by Navy and Air Force brass — in response to a directive from the White House — that during President Donald Trump’s Memorial Day weekend visit to Japan, the USS John S. McCain needs to be kept “out of sight.”

Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., West Point graduate, a major in the 82nd Airborne Division and McCain’s erstwhile colleague on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the White House’s actions to avoid a presidential tantrum at the sight of the Navy destroyer honoring the American war hero and frequent Trump adversary “beyond petty” and “disgraceful.” Yielding to few in my admiration for senators McCain and Reed, I believe the actions of up-to-now anonymous White House staffers, feverishly working to avoid the wrath of their insecure boss, were entirely logical and even predictable.

Think about it: McCain’s biography is a public rebuke to all the values and the life of Donald J. Trump. In June of 1968, when Trump was graduating from the University of Pennsylvania — only to miraculously be found afflicted with bone spurs, which would prevent the athletic Trump from answering his country’s call to serve in the U.S. military — Navy pilot McCain, having sustained a broken leg, broken shoulders and cracked ribs at the hands of his North Vietnamese captors, was in solitary confinement being tortured in a Hanoi prison.

We would learn some 32 years later what McCain’s fellow prisoners during his 5 1/2 years in captivity thought of him. During the 2000 New Hampshire presidential primary, I got to meet McCain’s Hanoi cellmate, Medal of Honor recipient and Air Force pilot George “Bud” Day. He, along with Marine aviator Orson Swindle, held prisoner for six years, and Navy pilot Everett Alvarez, one of the longest-held prisoners of war in U.S. history, came to the Granite State to knock on doors and to testify to voters about McCain’s courage and character. Can we name a single friend of Trump’s with whom his relationship is not commercially transactional? I am unable.

It was not just what McCain did but what he stood for that continues to make Trump so uncomfortable, even in the presence of his memory. Consider this McCain reflection on the warrior’s life I heard him give: “Not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the merciless reality of war.” Then he added: “Something better can endure, and endure until our last moment on earth. And that is the honor we earn and the love we give if at a moment in our lives we sacrifice for something greater than self-interest.”

These values and words are heresy to the New York real estate mogul. Forced to confront his own inadequacies and his own selfishness, Donald Trump cannot stand to have people compare him to John McCain, alive or dead.

Mark Shields is a Creators Syndicate columnist.

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