A weekly window on the American political scene hosted by the Monitor's politics editors.

On Trump, Biden, and McCain: some observations on civility

Not long ago, Joe Biden and John McCain won a prize for “civility in public life.” Now the practice is in even shorter supply – but not completely gone.

Charles Mostoller/Reuters/File
US Senator John McCain (R-AZ) is awarded the 2017 Liberty Medal by former US Vice President Joe Biden at the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, October, 2017.

Dear reader:
 
 The late Sen. John McCain would have been proud of his friend President-elect Joe Biden. The two went back decades – back, even, to before Mr. McCain’s election to Congress. In the late 1970s, when the Arizona Republican was the Navy’s Senate liaison, he used to carry the young Senator Biden’s bags on overseas trips.
 
 “That was almost 40 years ago, and by God, I still resent it,” Senator McCain joked at a 2016 event celebrating their enduring bipartisan friendship.
 
 They were the recipients of an award for “civility in public life,” a poignant event. But has civility, I wondered, become so rare that notable practitioners merit a prize? Both men were appearing in person, so I decided to go. Here’s the story.
 
 Now, civility seems to be in even shorter supply. The presidential election of 2020 was the ugliest in memory, and it’s still winding down. On Monday, the Trump administration “ascertained” that Mr. Biden is the “apparent winner” of the Nov. 3 election, allowing the formal transition process to begin.
 
 Yet President Donald Trump is still tweeting about fraudulent votes and his campaign is still sending fundraising emails claiming the election was stolen. In this parallel universe, the outcome of the 2020 election is still very much in doubt. That’s intentional, and to many people, divisive. The president and his campaign are working to keep his supporters united and “set the stage” for his next act, as Politico reports. It’s entirely possible he’ll run again in 2024.
 
 For now, though, President Trump still seems to enjoy the performative aspects of his job. He came to the briefing room Tuesday to tout the Dow crossing 30,000 for the first time. Later in the day, he engaged in that most venerable of presidential traditions, the pardoning of the Thanksgiving turkey.
 
 Mr. Trump kept it light – and civil. As he and the first lady headed back toward the White House, he ignored a shouted question about whether he might pardon himself. The first couple just turned and smiled.
 
 Mr. Biden put on another kind of show Tuesday when he introduced diverse members of his foreign policy and national security team. Each spoke movingly of her or his background and dedication to public service.
 
 Mr. McCain, the GOP nominee for president in 2008, never reached that highest rung in American politics. And if he were around today, he would surely say that he doesn’t see eye to eye with his friend, the president-elect, on some matters. But he’d do so civilly.
 
 Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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