Last Sunday, February 19th, on Meet the Press, U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) defended the need for a “free and [often times] an adversarial press” in order to “preserve democracy”. And he raised concerns about President Trump’s bellicose dialogue with press coverage at the White House. Some liberals were impressed with the Republican Senator’s warning against the “consolidation of power” as a sign of dictatorship in reference to the president’s excoriation of the press, including a tweet in which he claimed “fake news media… is the enemy of the American people”. A few Democrats went further to say they “respect” McCain’s seemingly strong stance against President Trump. Many would agree politicians who are consistently fair, broadly just, and who follow through on tough talk deserve respect. McCain may be more respectable relative to fellow GOP Congressmen including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT). However, ask American Indians and Native activists in his home state how much respect they have for the Arizona Senator: McCain may have voiced support for Native people, yet his contradictory actions have led to decisions and policies that undermine the protection of their sacred land.
Last August, McCain officially endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential nominee. Reluctantly, McCain had expressed support for Trump as early as May 2016. This despite having been criticized numerous times, including Trump’s claim in July 2015 that “[McCain’s] not a war hero. Well, he’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” McCain finally withdrew his endorsement of Trump only after a crude and vulgar 2005 tape from “Access Hollywood” was leaked to the media in October–in which Trump admits to groping women by their private parts and trying to have sex with a married woman. Progressives hope McCain would assert his supposed “maverick” influence and seniority in the Senate to rally Republican outcry against Trump’s despotic tendencies and his unpresidential behavior. It is a futile sentiment given the historical dichotomy of McCain’s rhetoric and his actions. The U.S. Senator was a “maverick” of sorts–not in a good way!–as a minority in Congress when he voted against establishing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a national holiday in 1983. Even though his position eventually changed, McCain has a track record of blocking civil rights legislation.
In 2008 when John McCain was the Republican presidential nominee, one of his supporters at a townhall meeting in Minnesota said Barack Obama, then Democratic presidential nominee, is untrustworthy because “he’s an Arab“. McCain corrected the woman: “No ma’am. [Obama is] a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.” Problem is McCain did nothing to assuage rising Islamophobia, especially within his party: he missed an opportunity of telling his misinformed supporters that equating the entire Arab population and Muslim men to jihadist extremists is no different from saying all white male Christians are domestic terrorists (the latter would be statistically closer to the truth).
On Friday, February 24th, the White House made an unprecedented decision of denying several news outlets–called out by Trump as “enem[ies] of the American people”–access to an off-camera press briefing with White House press secretary, Sean Spicer. Included on the banned list were CNN, the New York Times, Politico, the Guardian, and the BBC along with a few others. Conservative media groups were welcomed such as Breitbart News, the Washington Times, and One America News Network, as were TV networks Fox, ABC, CBS and NBC. The Associated Press and Time magazine were allowed but boycotted. Is this the beginning of the president’s censorship of the press? Moreover, is this the inchoate workings of a dictatorial regime in the White House?