By Anne Applebaum (@AnneApplebaum) of the Washington Post, with thanks to Mike Murphy (@MurphyMike)
“I have been amusing myself latterly with reading the voluminous letters of Cicero. They certainly breathe the present effusions of an exalted patriot, while the parricide Caesar is left in odious contrast.”
Those words were written by Thomas Jefferson on Dec. 10, 1819, in a letter to John Adams, himself a great Cicero scholar. America’s second president even modeled himself on the great Roman orator and politician: “All the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher,” Adams once wrote.
Like Cicero, John McCain now stands for a set of ideals, expressed in his action and his words. His refusal to use his status as an admiral’s son to get out of a POW camp during the Vietnam War; his principled opposition to the use of torture; his efforts to reach a bipartisan agreement on immigration; his efforts, more generally, to forge bipartisan consensus around foreign policy; his famous refusal, during his failed 2008 campaign for president, to attack Barack Obama as a “Muslim” or a traitor, as many in his party demanded. All these are things one might very well describe as “the effusions of an exalted patriot.” Adams and Jefferson were not alone.
The “odious contrast” is particularly stark because, for the moment, Trump’s vision of America has won. We have to hope that McCain’s vision of America and its place in the world will outlast (Trump) too,