On Aug. 25, Arizona Sen. John McCain passed away due to complications from brain cancer. After McCain was diagnosed with glioblastoma last July, his health steadily deteriorated until he made the decision to discontinue his treatment a few days before his death.
The late senator was a naval hero, having spent multiple years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He retired from the Navy in 1981 and entered politics, blazing his own legacy as both a champion of conservatism and an ardent believer in compromise. See, McCain was a self-described maverick: a politician willing to cross political party lines to protect his or her values. He represented a brand of politician that is largely absent from the American political scene today.
I was shocked to see much of the response to the senator’s passing was critical. Instead of celebrating McCain’s legacy, the media largely used his death to attack President Donald Trump and even express dissatisfaction over McCain’s ideology. In fact, The New Yorker released an article that focused on Trump’s petty response to McCain’s death, calling Trump a “liar” and “crook” instead of focusing on McCain’s sizable legacy.
Why couldn’t people put their ideologies aside to celebrate McCain’s great career and sacrifices for the country?
In America’s current politically polarized state, it has become increasingly important to bring people from both sides together. While reflecting on McCain and his work in the Senate, it’s imperative to highlight and remember his efforts to put politics above party lines.
The U.S. government is extremely inefficient. It’s how it was constructed. Efficiency was compromised in favor of checks and balances. With a Congress that can switch parties every two years and a president that can switch every four, it is very difficult to produce lasting legislation without bipartisan support. Otherwise, legislation would just be rolled back every time the party in control switches.
Trump’s rise to the presidency has seemingly damaged the social fabric of the U.S., widening the rift between conservatives and liberals, thereby making it difficult to have discussion across party lines. Though much of Trump’s policy aligns with the moderate right, his rhetoric and alternative facts have been used to brand conservatives as a racist, uneducated and misogynistic group.
But it’s not just the right that is hurt by this. On the other side, the rise of Democratic socialists has contributed to the polarization. Political leaders like Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have developed the left as socialist and at times intolerant.
This marque of radicalism has become quite counterproductive to achieving true political progress in the United States. The number of violent groups on either side has been increasing recently, and as a result has created a nasty facade to politics. People actively avoid showcasing their party allegiance publicly and stay away from politics entirely for fear of being judged and attacked. In fact, when I was canvassing for a local candidate this summer many individuals refused to put up yard signs or even talk to me for that reason alone.
Even worse than this is the rise of intolerance for even hearing out opposing arguments. Many top conservative thought leaders and polemicists have been actively shut out by students and even college administrators from even being able to simply share their ideas on campus. The University of California, Berkeley riots in opposition to people like conservative writer Ben Shapiro were one of the many examples of active infringements on free speech rights.
At the University of Michigan, where a substantial number of students are Democrats, it is important to make sure the other side is heard out and respected. We must branch out of our own echo chambers and try to at the very least acknowledge the validity of the other side.
The other day I had a conversation with a couple of friends who were of opposite political ideologies. As politics go, the discussion got heated at times, but in the end we were able to compromise on certain issues. Political discourse needs to be open and factual discourse. No ad hominem. No racism or sexism. Just free and proper debate.
So instead of creating conspiracy out of McCain’s passing or blaming the current presidential administration, respect the senator’s legacy by making an extra effort to hear out both political sides. Practice politics in the spirit of the maverick. And who knows? Maybe it’ll change your mind. It sure did change mine.
Adithya Sanjay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org