John McCain's goodbye is in classic tradition of Washington's Farewell

There's a great tradition of farewell addresses in American life, usually written by departing presidents sa...

Posted: Aug 29, 2018 6:55 AM
Updated: Aug 29, 2018 6:55 AM

There's a great tradition of farewell addresses in American life, usually written by departing presidents saying goodbye to our nation after their terms in office.

But Sen. John McCain, a man whose patriotic stature rivals and even exceeds many presidents, issued his farewell address in a letter read two days after his death by his long-time aide Rick Davis. As emotional as it was for Davis to read, it was equally poignant for those of us who admired McCain to listen to.

George Washington

John McCain

Political Figures - US

As with all farewell addresses, it offered a distillation of hard-won wisdom from his life in war and peace.

George Washington's Farewell Address is the first and perhaps still most iconic leave-taking in American history and established a tradition that McCain followed by instinct.

Washington's Farewell begins with an expression of gratitude to his "friends and fellow citizens" for a lifetime of service, an admission of having made mistakes and an expression of hope that those mistakes are outweighed by his attempt to serve our nation with honor.

McCain did just that at the outset of his address to his "Fellow Americans," writing: "I have tried to serve our country honorably. I have made mistakes, but I hope my love for America will be weighed favorably against them."

Farewell addresses also define core principles of our country, as McCain's did: "We are citizens of the world's greatest republic, a nation of ideals, not blood and soil. We are blessed and are a blessing to humanity when we uphold and advance those ideals at home and in the world."

But the other great tradition of farewell addresses is that they offer a warning to future generations. Washington warned about the forces that could destroy our democratic republic, drawing on the lessons of his life and understanding of history, a subject I covered extensively in my book, "Washington's Farewell." Andrew Jackson's farewell warned against the siren song of secession. Dwight David Eisenhower famously warned against the rise of the "military industrial complex." And in January 2017, Barack Obama warned against threats to our democracy at home and abroad.

McCain warned against departing from our deepest ideals, which are the cornerstone of American exceptionalism: "We weaken our greatness when we confuse our patriotism with tribal rivalries that have sown resentment and hatred and violence in all the corners of the globe. We weaken it when we hide behind walls, rather than tear them down, when we doubt the power of our ideals, rather than trust them to be the great force for change they have always been."

It is hard not to hear in those words an implicit diss to President Donald Trump and the divisive politics he has come to symbolize. But the fact that those sentiments have an urgent edge in the current environment is one way to gauge how far we have lurched from traditional American terms of debate. After all, "us and against them" is the opposite of our national motto, e pluribus unum: Out of many, one.

But farewell addresses always offer a redeeming hope, a renewable source of strength we can draw upon to get through hard times. McCain's did the same, reminding Americans that for all our differences and sometimes "vociferous" debates, "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."

McCain's final advice was to tap into the wellspring of defiant optimism that has always defined us as Americans: "Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history."

It was an eloquent final statement from a great man who is part of an even greater American tradition. His powerful example in life -- and now in death -- can continue to inspire and guide us through stormy skies.

Godspeed John McCain, from your fellow Americans.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115088

Reported Deaths: 3255
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 155915

Reported Deaths: 2674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23129377
Mobile16849315
Tuscaloosa10296140
Montgomery10197197
Madison928096
Shelby733863
Baldwin663769
Lee653465
Calhoun456761
Marshall438150
Etowah426551
Houston414834
Morgan412035
DeKalb338829
Elmore320053
St. Clair292542
Limestone284230
Walker277292
Talladega265335
Cullman244024
Lauderdale226242
Jackson214915
Franklin205231
Autauga204831
Colbert200532
Russell19443
Blount192525
Chilton186932
Dallas186527
Coffee176311
Dale175151
Covington174029
Escambia172530
Chambers135044
Clarke134317
Pike133513
Tallapoosa131787
Marion107629
Barbour10319
Marengo100822
Butler100740
Winston92213
Geneva9007
Lawrence85032
Pickens84718
Bibb82814
Randolph82316
Hale76730
Washington74412
Clay74112
Cherokee73314
Lowndes70928
Henry7086
Bullock64817
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60630
Perry5896
Fayette57413
Wilcox56712
Conecuh56113
Cleburne5568
Macon53420
Lamar4905
Sumter47221
Choctaw39012
Greene34216
Coosa2033
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Overcast
62° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 62°
Columbus
Overcast
60° wxIcon
Hi: 68° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 60°
Oxford
Broken Clouds
55° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 55°
Starkville
Overcast
59° wxIcon
Hi: 66° Lo: 51°
Feels Like: 59°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather