I’m surprised at how sad I am about John McCain’s passing. I can’t stop crying. I think I’m not just mourning the man and his ethic of service and sacrifice, but also what feels like the loss of civility, dignity, seriousness and intelligence in American public life.

The Republican Party of my childhood was one of lofty ideals, erudition and egalitarianism. Not without its shortcomings and failures for certain. But back then there were impressive thinkers and leaders who espoused the values of democracy, free markets, personal autonomy, international leadership, and freedom of speech.

Now, with very few exceptions, intelligent people of character and accomplishment have been traded for racists, convicted felons, pedophile sympathizers, reality stars, wife beaters, dopey billionaire donors, and other assorted grifters, miscreants and opportunists.

It has been surprising and disappointing to see people I love follow this fear-mongering, ethically bereft administration convincing themselves that somehow “the ends justify the means.” All the lessons of my life – my religious upbringing, my moral education and the march of history have taught me otherwise.

Rather than dwell on the disappointment of lost illusions, I choose to put my energy into finding positive ways to move forward. One thing I can do is teach my children the power of language, and what real patriotism entails. It’s a tough task, but the rare and shining example John McCain is a good place to start.

“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. We have helped liberate more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history, and we have acquired great wealth and power in the progress.

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.

We are 325 million opinionated, vociferous individuals. We argue and compete and sometimes even vilify each other in our raucous public debates. But 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.”

–Excerpt from John McCain’s farewell letter.

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