At a time in history when every political norm has been upended and replaced with partisanship and personal attacks, we remember the American hero, Sen. John McCain, R–Arizona. McCain, a selfless public servant for six decades, had an unwavering optimism in our political system and its ability to do good work for the American people. McCain was regarded as “the maverick of the Senate” for his uncommon courage to defy party lines and vote with his conscience. McCain will forever be remembered for his shocking Senate vote against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which McCain opposed on principle but voted to keep in place for the good of the country over the good of his party.
Respected by many, McCain rose above ad hominem attacks to focus on the issues important to the people of Arizona and the rest of the country. His style and class are of a bygone era when issues of policy and substance dominated headlines. John McCain’s patriotic spirit is what must be reignited on college campuses across the country.
Optimism in our system has fallen out of favor. Academia’s harsh criticism of politicians and the U.S. government over the past two decades has forestalled our generation’s optimism that through our democracy we can effect change in pursuit of a more perfect union. Look across historically politically-active campuses and notice the frightening lack of patriotism or belief in the government as a positive agent of change. The student movements of Berkeley and Ann Arbor in the ’60s have been replaced with hashtags and social media “like activism.” Students have John McCain to look to as an example of how a dedicated civil servant and politician can move our democracy forward. Change takes decades to enact: We need to be proactive in pushing advocacy and strive toward making our campuses and communities better places to live and study.
Our 2017 campus protests against the administration’s policies and directives were merely reactive. As students, we need to be proactive in our approach and continue to participate all year long, rather than just when it is popular or trending to do so.
The next generation of American taxpayers has become jaded and bored by our political system. Too often, we forget that those on the other side of the debate are also patriots interested in what’s best for our country. As students, we ought to recognize the humanity of our opponents and respect their positions. As former President George W. Bush said in his eulogy for McCain: “He was honorable, always recognizing his opponents were still patriots and human beings. He loved freedom with a passion of a man who knew its absence. He respected the dignity inherent in every life.” Even in the most fraught of circumstances, McCain never gave into the personal attacks that have come to dominate presidential politics. Instead, he embodied decency in his respect for his opponents and continued to debate the issues of the day.
In his farewell statement, McCain articulated this best: “We are three-hundred-and-twenty-five million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But we have always had so much more in common with each other than in disagreement. If only we remember that and give each other the benefit of the presumption that we all love our country we will get through these challenging times. We will come through them stronger than before. We always do.”
The spirit of John McCain survives through the voices of campus activists who speak up for the policies they believe in and then turn out to vote those policies into law. Engage, lean in, turn on and activate yourself to become a force for good and an impetus for change and reform. We do this not because it is easy or convenient but because it is our duty as an engaged citizenry. Our democratic system requires us to show up to vote instead of dismissing the effectiveness of one vote, as this lazy response is reserved for the uninterested. The “like activism” politics of today is mere virtue signaling intended for social media sites and is not enough. Hashtags do not effect change. Liking posts is not enough.
Take responsibility for the campus, community, state and country you live in. Former President Barack Obama addressed audiences at the DNC admonishing the nation, saying, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.” We owe it to ourselves and to our future to get informed and get involved.
Sam Kole is an LSA junior.