The weekend when August eased into September gave us the last blast of summer in the United States before vacation season ended and everyone returned to work and school.
This year it also brought us time to grieve and to think.
We buried two American icons during the long Labor Day Holiday weekend — a man who was a lion in the U.S. Senate and a woman known affectionately as “the Queen of Soul.”
Aretha Franklin got an emotional farewell in an African-American church in Detroit with an eight-hour service that celebrated her life, her incredible voice and her devotion to racial justice.
John McCain’s send-off was — in a word — presidential, the kind of ritual usually reserved for deceased heads of state. It was also a reminder of all that is good in America and all we should strive to be.
At a time when our politics is nastier and more divided than ever, McCain’s funeral was an appeal to the nation to rise above pettiness, to embrace the worth of each individual, and to stand up for the ideals he held so dear: honor, respect and commitment to the truth.
It was somehow fitting that he was eulogized in the great expanse of Washington’s National Cathedral by the men who defeated him in his two quests for the highest office in the land: former Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Each got a call from Senator McCain as he approached death with a request to speak.
Bush spoke first and said: “John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this.”
Obama followed, noting that McCain was always quick to hold him to account in his two terms as president. They consulted often and despite their political differences, found a certain camaraderie.
“We never doubted the other man’s sincerity or the other man’s patriotism, or that when all was said and done, we were on the same team,” Obama said.
It’s a message we all need to listen to.
The name of the current president was never uttered. It didn’t have to be.
Donald Trump was not invited to the service. He had no use for John McCain and his message, only begrudgingly recognized his passing, and as the funeral was beginning, was seen heading out for a round of golf.
If he had assumed his normal perch that morning in front of the TV, he would have seen McCain’s daughter, Meghan, wipe tears from her eyes as she delivered a gut-wrenching tribute to her father.
“The America of John McCain is generous and welcoming and bold. She is resourceful and confident and secure. She meets her responsibilities. She speaks quietly because she is strong. America does not boast because she has no need. The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” she exclaimed.
The ad-hoc congregation that filled every seat in the cathedral that morning responded with applause.
In those few hours, the political boundaries in Washington came down as Republicans and Democrats from all points on the political spectrum came together to praise a man who sometimes failed, but always tried to do what was right.
And you have to wonder just how long will this feeling last? How long will they listen to the advice of John McCain?
His passing came just two months before elections that will determine which party will control the U.S. Congress as well as various state governments across the country. Already it is getting nasty and there are fears that when all is said and done, the negative rhetoric will get much worse.
The race for governor of the state of Florida may offer a preview of what is to come: a congressman and arch Trump supporter on the Republican side versus the liberal African-American mayor of the city of Tampa for the Democrats.
Already, there have been comments from the Republican that some have seen as racial slurs. The candidate, Ron DeSantis, says his words were misconstrued. But they seem to have set a tone, and were followed days later by automated racist phone calls to some would-be voters by an outside group.
The Democrat in the race, Andrew Gillum, tried to cool things down, telling CNN “I want to make sure that we don’t radicalize and, frankly, weaponize race as a part of this process.” He then added: “People are taking their clues from (DeSantis), from his campaign and from Donald Trump.”
And those clues from the president are likely to keep on coming, emanating both from his campaign rallies and his tweets.
As the election grows closer, there are fears that his rhetoric will get much hotter and more divisive as he seeks to energize his base.
At the moment, though, the “Trump effect” may be doing more harm than good.
A pre-election poll conducted last week shows a distinct advantage for the Democrats, and Donald Trump is a big reason why.
Participants were asked how they would cast their ballots if the election for the House of Representatives was held today. Of the registered voters polled, 52 percent said they would opt for the Democratic candidate in their district, 38 percent said they would chose the Republican.
The Washington Post-ABC survey also found that opposition to Trump has created a lot of enthusiasm among members of the Democratic Party, and that many who normally sit out mid-term elections plan to vote this time.
In public, Republican leaders say they are not worried. But there are already indications that they are trying to adjust their legislative schedule to give their candidates a lot more time to campaign back home.
Some, from both parties, are running issue-based common sense campaigns short on personal attacks and nasty rhetoric. Others, are going low.
They all need to stop every now and then and remember the advice of John McCain who campaigned for president in a bus called “the Straight Talk Express” and insisted that former political foes be listed on his funeral program as “friends.”
Veteran journalist Mike Allen summed it up well on the morning of McCain’s burial on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy:
“There are causes larger than ourselves, as McCain reminded his audiences, particularly young people.
Now we just have to remember what they are.”