U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in a 2017 file photo. William Thomas Cain/Getty Images
Photo: William Thomas Cain
Photo: William Thomas Cain

John McCain and the power of mourning

U.S. Sen. John McCain, the former Vietnam POW who became a symbolic opponent of President Donald Trump and his dominance of the national Republican party, has ended treatment for the brain cancer, his family said Friday.

It is fair to say that a death watch has begun.

Knowing McCain, it is also worth assuming that, in some fashion, the Arizona senator has arranged to have his say at the ceremonies to follow. Whether Trump will be in the audience to receive a final salvo from the ex-fighter pilot will be something to watch. Perhaps Melania Trump or Vice President Mike Pence will do the honors.

But it is also worth considering that mourning has often served as a spark. Shakespeare gave us the first explosive eulogy with Marc Antony’s sarcastic defense of the assassins of Julius Caesar: “So are they all, all honorable men,” Antony said. And then the rebellion against the rebellion began.

John McCain Fast Facts

But I am thinking of Hu Yaobang, a lieutenant of Mao Zedong who pursued economic reform and transparency in the Chinese government during the subsequent rule of Deng Xiaoping.

Accusations of “bourgeois liberalization” doomed him, and he was purged – not for the first time. Hu died on April 15, 1989. The day before his funeral, perhaps 100,000 students marched on Tiananmen Square to demand his posthumous rehabilitation.

Students would seize and hold Tiananmen Square through May and into June, their number swelling to 1 million by many estimates. Only when the People’s Liberation Army brought in the armor and fired on them on June 4 did they leave.

Nearly 30 years later, it is still a forbidden topic in Beijing.

There is no parallel between us and post-Mao China. The point is that the mourning that surrounds death can have an emotional power that escapes the church sanctuary, sidesteps traditional funeral rites, and drives the affairs of those left behind.

It is something worth remembering in coming days.

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About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.