Revisionist History: Why Black people need to realize John McCain was more like Donald Trump than anyone will ever want to admit

This weekend the news broke that Senator John McCain had passed away after a long battle with brain cancer. The widely praised war hero was considered a class act who composed himself with a dignity and grace that arguably seems to be foreign in the GOP.

And while I don’t doubt that the 81-year old was probably a great husband and father, a part of me has been confused this week and left to wonder, “Why are BLACK people mourning his death so hard?”

Now, I’m not going to lie, death is some sobering ish, and when I first heard about the politician’s passing, I admit that my first thought was, “Wow. His daughter must be devastated.”

While McCain’s friends and white conservatives as a whole grieve (which is their right), at what point did we as Black Americans suddenly forget that John McCain has never had our backs when it counted? 

Of course, no one wants to be accused of speaking ill of the dead, but the John McCain that people of color are clinging to in the afterlife is starting to look like a heavily photoshopped version of the man who actually walked this earth.

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You guys may want to rewrite his legacy beyond recognition and act like he was holding a torch next to Harriet Tubman, but my memory is too long for that, and the receipts repeatedly say otherwise.

Leave MLK out of this

Before anyone starts up with that Martin Luther King, “turn the other cheek” rhetoric, let us not forget that in 1983 when this nation saw it fit to recognize MLK by giving him his own holiday, it was John McCain who staunchly opposed the gesture. That’s right, McCain  actually voted against the bill even after then President Ronald Reagan decided to approve it.

In fact, it wasn’t until 25 years later, after a young senator by the name of Barack Obama had beat him in the election, that McCain took stake of the current climate, and on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther’s death decided he was on the wrong side of history.

“We can be slow as well to give greatness its due, a mistake I myself made long ago when I voted against a federal holiday in memory of Dr. King,” McCain said, during a speech in 2008 in Memphis where King died. “I was wrong, and eventually realized it in time to give full support — full support — for a state holiday in my home state of Arizona.”

OK, so he made a mistake, and he admitted it.

Surely that epiphany would lead this man, known as “The Maverick,” to take more socially conscious stance moving forward. Right?


As if he had learned absolutely nothing from his MLK faux pas, McCain continued to vote in ways that adversely affected and/or blatantly discounted the Black community until the end.

Let’s not forget this is the same man who voted for Betsy DeVos  to become education secretary; a woman who is actively attempting to increase the education gap between minority students and their white peers, while also playing around with the idea of using taxpayer dollars (meant for books and materials) to put guns inside the classroom.

If we all agree she’s an idiot, what does that make him for publicly having her back?

Are we just gonna ignore the racism?

While McCain’s policies may be have been covertly anti-Black, there have also been several times where he’s been caught saying overtly problematic stuff about other races.

I suspect the reason minorities are suddenly developing man-crushes on problematic old politicians is simply because, “Well at least he ain’t Trump!”

Let the record show, that before Trump got on Twitter and made tasteless jokes as an elected official, there was your boy, John McCain.

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In 2013, when a former Iranian president announced that he wanted to become the first Iranian to go to space, without skipping a beat the senator tweeted: “So Ahmadinejad wants to be first Iranian in space—wasn’t he just there last week” and then linked to a story about Iran claiming to launch a monkey into space.

Call me crazy but, comparing Muslims to monkeys doesn’t exactly fit with this puritanical myth y’all are selling.

Also, let’s not forget that time when the San Francisco Gate reported, that the man who is considered a hero specifically because he spent five and half years in a North Vietnamese prison camp during the Vietnam War, openly referred to his captors as “g**ks” when speaking with reporters at a press conference.

“I hate the g**ks. I will hate them as long as I live,” McCain declared without an ounce of shame.

At the time, Diane Chin, executive director of the San Francisco–based organization Chinese for Affirmative Action, came out and said these sort of comments were exactly why he wasn’t fit to be President.

“For someone running for President not to recognize the power of words is a problem,” she pointed out.

But hey… at least he’s not Trump right?

Sorry Not Sorry

I personally think it’s manipulative as hell (and a show of peak whiteness) that McCain’s family asked Barack Obama, the man he spent the better part of a decade undermining, to speak at his eulogy. What’s worse is that I can’t think of a single way Obama could turn down the request without seeming like a bitter Betty.

The public is being told that because McCain had been gracious to Obama in the past, it’s only right that he return the favor and put his articulate negro superpowers to good use at his service.

That’s a nice story, but it’s not entirely true.

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While McCain has been repeatedly applauded for the way he graciously conceded defeat to Obama in the 2008 election, his blatant (and at times, seemingly personal) disdain for Obamacare hints that he may not have necessarily been the jovial “good sport” that people would like to believe.

John McCain could be just as petty as anyone else (introducing Sarah Palin into our lives is proof enough of that). Just replay the footage from the Obama years; back when attacking #44 was considered sport for the GOP, McCain rode that wave just as hard as the rest of his cronies.

And yet, when the tide changed in 2017, and Trump showed up to the Oval ready to assault anyone who got in his way, suddenly he shape shifted once more (just in time to make headlines) and unexpectedly “saved” Obamacare from our tyrannical new leader.

Like seriously, come on!

Can you imagine how the media would react if a Black politician constantly flip flopped like that?

When you take emotion, public sentiment, and clever PR spins out of this and simply look at his record, McCain may be sincerely missed by his family and his peers, but he was also a rich white politician with a history of voting against OUR interests when we’re down, but then apologizing for it after the fact, to stay in our good graces.

“Today we not only lost a war hero and savvy politician but a man that always put true American values before himself,” NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said after news had broke of McCain’s passing.

I disagree with that oversimplified assessment, and suspect that the aging senator became quietly committed to maintaining his good guy persona at all costs, even if it meant doing a complete 180 on those he pledged his allegiance to.

Even his deathbed letter reads like the thoughts of a man whose last moments were spent attempting to protect his legacy with a final, “I’m sorry.”

And it seems to be working on ya’ll.

Which may make him one of the cleverest politicians to ever walk this earth, but trust me, that doesn’t necessarily make him our friend.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric