Political News

John McCain just keeps trolling Donald Trump

"It's time to wake up."

Posted Updated

Analysis by Chris Cillizza (CNN Editor-at-large)
(CNN) — "It's time to wake up."

That's Sen. John McCain's warning to the country -- and his party -- about the dangers of submitting to the rising tide of populism, isolationism and nationalism being sold by President Donald Trump.

The Arizona Republican's speech -- delivered at his alma mater US Naval Academy on Tuesday -- was the second time this month he has delivered a broad-spectrum critique of Trump and Trumpism. And the two speeches taken together are rightly understood as McCain's attempt -- while facing down a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer -- to serve as a clarion call for a GOP he believes has wrongly and dangerously fallen under the Trump trance. (Worth noting: McCain never uses Trump's name in this speech. But the 45th President is like a black cloud looming over the proceedings. )

Down that path lies real peril for the party and the country, McCain believes, and he appears to be committed to doing everything in his power in the time he has left to sound the alarm.

(Although, side note: There is roughly zero chance this speech is not directed at Trumpism, but if McCain really wants people to wake up, why doesn't he plainly say that?)

Notice the sleeping metaphor McCain used in this passage from Tuesday's speech:

"We are asleep to the necessity of our leadership and to the opportunities and real dangers of this world. We are asleep in our echo chambers, where our views are always affirmed and information that contradicts them is always fake. We are asleep in our polarized politics, which exaggerates our differences, looks for scapegoats instead of answers and insists we get all our way all the time from a system of government based on compromise, principled cooperation and restraint."

That's a series of powerful images from McCain -- a public ignorant of the necessity of its leadership, siloed off in echo chambers of our own making, defaulting to partisan politics and unwilling to engage with one another in search of compromise.

McCain casts this slumber as a fundamental break from the post-World War II order (and a remarkable blindness to what our post-World War II approach to the world wrought). This line gets at that this-is-not-normal message from McCain:

"The American example and American leadership are indispensable to securing a peaceful and prosperous future. Our failure to remain engaged in Europe and enforce the hard-won peace of 1918 had made that clear. There could be no more isolationism, no more tired resignation -- no more 'America First.'"

As does this one:

"We have gone from an interval when the global success of democracy seemed assured to a time in which the seductions of authoritarian rule find favor with many; when self-interested leadership excuses naked aggression with weak rationalizations; when ethnic grievances haunt the old and religious fanaticism fires the minds of the misguided young."

The attack on our values -- which McCain makes clear is coming from within and without the United States -- requires an active decision to fight for what we believe in. That's the only way we can hope to keep what had made us great, according to McCain.

"We have to fight against propaganda and crackpot conspiracy theories," he said at one point in the Naval Academy speech. "We have to fight isolationism, protectionism and nativism."

At another moment in the speech, McCain insisted that American values "are under attack from forces within liberal democracies themselves, parties that preach resentful nationalism rather than enlightened self-interest, nativism rather than equal justice."

The stakes, in McCain's mind, could not be higher. And the US populace could not be less prepared for what is increasingly a full-frontal assault on the values that make America, well, America.

McCain is trying to wake people up. He's like the town crier, going around banging a pot and insisting that if we don't recognize the threat posed by the Trumpism here and its ilk around the world, it may be too late.

Is anyone listening?

Copyright 2023 by Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.