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Fallen hero John McCain deserves better than flag squabbles

The American flag flies at half-staff over the

The American flag flies at half-staff over the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington in honor of Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who died Saturday. Senate Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer said he will introduce a resolution to rename the building to honor McCain. Credit: AP / J. Scott Applewhite

Across the United States, Republicans and Democrats alike, those who supported Sen. John McCain and those who stood against him, have eagerly come together to celebrate a national hero. President Donald Trump did so only grudgingly.

Over the objections of his senior staff, Trump refused until Monday afternoon to release an official statement honoring McCain’s life.

The White House flag was lowered Sunday after McCain’s death; presidents traditionally order the flag flown at half-staff until burial when someone of national prominence dies, as Barack Obama did for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. But the White House flag was back at its full height on Monday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer together asked the Department of Defense to “provide necessary support so that U.S. flags on all government buildings remain at half mast through sunset on the day of Senator McCain’s interment.” And the American Legion demanded, in the name of its “two million wartime veterans,” that McCain receive the honor he deserved. Finally, late Monday afternoon, Trump relented, issuing a proclamation that all flags be lowered and recognizing McCain’s service.

Our politics are now so skewed that Schumer, a Democrat from New York, wants the Senate building now named for longtime Georgia Democratic Sen. Richard Russell` renamed for McCain. No one is more Republican than McConnell, but he is balking at honoring his old friend, McCain.

Russell, who served for four decades until his death in 1971, is mostly remembered for his manipulations against civil rights and racial integration. With a GOP base so easily triggered by calls to further ensure equality and also angry at McCain for criticizing Trump, Republicans could have a hard time replacing Russell’s name.

McCain himself might have made the strongest argument to replace Russell. In a posthumous farewell statement, he said, “We are citizens of the world’s greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil.” “Blood and Soil” is a tarnished Nazi slogan, chanted by white supremacists last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia. Those marchers would prefer Russell’s vision over McCain’s inclusiveness, and Trump’s churlishness over McCain’s lighthearted dignity, but they need not win out.

The nation’s better angels triumphed in reverence to a loyal patriot. — The editorial board