John McCain is buried, may his philosophy soon follow.
Now they lay his body down
Sad old men who run this town
“Kings,” Steely Dan (Walter Becker and Donald Fagen), 1972
Novelists can align their stories with whatever deeper truth they’re trying to convey. Real life is seldom so neat, but the death of John McCain can neither be separated from nor understood without appreciating its symbolic elements. The mourning functionaries and hagiographic media that laid McCain to rest symbolically buried, without realizing it, the philosophy he so epitomized. Send not to know for whom the bell tolled, it tolled for what they so fervently believe.
John McCain venerated the state, of which he was a product. His grandfather and father were admirals in the navy. He was a graduate of the Naval Academy and spent his entire career working for the government. His philosophy was consistent: there are no constraints on the state. As was his ambition: the accretion of state and personal power. Championing government both at home and abroad, he achieved bipartisan splendor.
He never met a US war, actual or prospective, he didn’t love. (Although he sort of admitted after the fact that Iraq might have been a mistake, and he came out against torture.) His was the deciding vote against repealing Obamacare. That put him at the Olympian summit of uniparty bipartisanship: the indefatigable champion of the warfare state, the welfare state, the surveillance state, and anything else the state might want to do.
That is why the flags flew at half-mast, his body lay in state in the US Capitol, Democrats and Republicans issued gushing commemoratives, and the mainstream media flowed with his praises. Powerful people’s florid eulogies were the verbal equivalent of the military’s twenty-one gun salute. McCain was the exemplar of the uniparty’s only consistent principle: the expansion of government and its power.
McCain couldn’t have achieved the prominence he did if millions of American hadn’t shared his beliefs. An invariably wrong anti-prophet greatly honored in his own country, his vision is being challenged and undermined not at home but in foreign lands, many of which have suffered the depredations of McCain and his ilk’s “muscular” foreign policy.
If McCain the warrior had been anything more than unobservant, arrogant, and stupid, he might have noticed that nonstop bombing and unrestricted warfare were not “winning hearts and minds” in Vietnam. That slogan was only PR anyway, the military and political goal was always dominance and subjugation. Whatever the benefits of a successful hearts and minds campaign might have been, mostly unnoticed were the devastating consequences to the US of losing those heart and minds.
In modern warfare the invader employs overwhelming force: fighter jets, bombers, ships, submarines, tanks, artillery, and well-supplied and armed troops, or to use one of McCain’s favorite phases, boots on the ground. The invasion goes well. Instituting an occupation, installing a puppet government, and fighting the inevitable insurgency do not. The invasion loses heart and minds, the occupation and puppet even more, and the insurgency is off and running.
McCain, who never voiced an original thought or cogent insight in his life, failed to grasp the decentralization of cheap but effective means to wage insurgent counter-warfare: IED’s, shoulder-launched missiles, mines, terrorism, propaganda, hacking, the internet, and smart phones. It never seemed to occur to him that once someone loses a close relative or friend to your shock and awe, they’re probably going to be your enemy, sworn to harm you any way they can. It apparently eluded him that the “friendly rebels” he posed with in photo ops and embraced as regime-change agents would be friends only as long as the US supplied money and arms, but would shift allegiances on a dime, only true to their own ends. Call it willful blindness.
In his defense, and it’s a feeble defense, his myopia is shared by the US political, military, media, academic, entertainment, and business establishment. Those who don’t share it are marginalized, suppressed, or—for the sake of career and professional standing—keep their mouths shut. But myopia excuses far too much. Venality and corruption are at the heart of it. America’s endless wars reward its proponents and beneficiaries with enormous power and profits. Their five-star sendoff for prime beneficiary McCain is fitting.
Now US dominance is under attack. Russia and China press ahead with their consolidation of Eurasia and the erection of a multipolar order. They have both developed weapons for which the US has no defense, unless such defenses are a well-kept secret. Even satraps, puppets, and vassals are questioning their allegiance to the US government, its military, and its dollar. The US national debt asks no questions, but tells no lies. The numbers on usdebtclock.org for debt and unfunded liabilities spin ever faster, propelled by uncontrolled spending, compounding interest and a refusal to admit that our ends outstrip our means.
McCain’s death was as charmed as his life. He has departed before the empire he loved collapses under the weight of hubris and debt. It’s a story as old as empire, but the rulers of America either don’t read history, don’t comprehend its lessons, or believe that they, like McCain, will depart before the bitter harvest is reaped.
Now they’ve laid John’s body down, sad old men and women who run this town. Their sadness was feigned. One of the treasures exchanged for power is the capacity for honest and wholesome emotion. It’s all unbounded ambition, bloodless calculation, and reflexive insincerity. The “sad” is from the perspective of the wise and ethical. Many of the “mourners” are so warped, so corrupt, and so beyond redemption that they evoke profound despair among those who see them for what they are.
The “old” is real. The powers that be look and talk old. Their philosophy is ancient, tottering like Hillary Clinton falling into her van. For centuries, beneath the religious and patriotic dross, might wielded by central authority has made right. That philosophy and its adherents won’t go without an epic tantrum befitting the late McCain, but forces of decentralization beyond their control have been unleashed. The order they worship is Rome’s unaffordable, unmaintainable subjugation of its empire, undone by barbarians outside the gates and corruption within.
The future belongs to chaos as the unsustainable old order collapses. Someday an entirely different order and ethic, based on decentralized liberty, may prevail…somewhere.
This weekend John McCain has been laid to rest. Not, unfortunately, what he represents…but that will follow soon enough.