An easy non-judgmental affability is a useful personality trait in an entrepreneur. If you are in the cut throat business of wresting a profit from heartless competitors, it is best to adopt a hale fellow well met public face, for today’s market enemy may be tomorrow’s investment friend. Hence, the popularity of fraternal organizations – the Elks, the Masons, the Knights of Columbus – where two men, each of whom would happily drive the other into bankruptcy, can share drinks, slap backs, tell stories, and in general preserve that façade of congeniality on which tomorrow’s business deal can be built. By contrast, aristocrats are prickly, proud, stubborn, and prone to nurse grievances, as Alexis de Tocqueville observes in his classic work, Democracy in America.
Like all good Marxists, I applaud capitalism as a revolutionary way station on the road to socialism, but I must confess to a secret nostalgia for those pre-capitalist traits of the aristos. This anti-historical longing of mine was called from its resting place deep in my soul by the elaborate funeral arrangements made by John McCain in preparation for his death from brain cancer.
McCain had many faults, as the commentators on this blog have noted at length, but he had certain endearing traits, and one, which speaks to his quasi-aristocratic life, was on full display this week. I speak, of course, of his infinite capacity to be personally and visibly affronted.
The organizing and defining incident of McCain’s persona was his captivity in North Viet Nam. I am not speaking of the truth of the matter, but rather of what it meant to him. On that five year captivity and torture was built both his self-understanding and his political career. When Donald Trump cavalierly dismissed that experience, saying that McCain was only a hero because he got captured [“I prefer those who don’t get captured”], he sought to rip away McCain’s reason for being, his essence, his claim upon our admiration.
It was, I thought, transparently obvious that McCain’s dramatic thumbs-down on the repeal of Obamacare was a middle finger to Trump. But like the aristocrats of old, McCain neither forgot nor forgave. So it was that when he confronted the inevitability of his own death, he deliberately devised funereal rites specifically intended to achieve a final retribution for Trump’s insult.
McCain began by excluding Trump from the proceedings, thereby depriving Trump of his most precious possession – the daily news cycle. Trump has been compelled to endure an entire week devoted to someone other than himself. But that was only the start. He invited both George W. Bush and Barack Obama to the funeral, a second slight. Then, as a final insult, McCain invited, as a memorial speaker, a Black NFL player! All the proceedings lacked was a biblical reading by Stormy Daniels.
I must confess it. I like a man who can hold a grudge even from beyond the grave.