Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) delivered his "Liberty Medal" acceptance speech at the National Constitution Center Monday night, and his remarks were immediately met with "fawning" praise by former presidents, current elected officials, and cable news talking heads. But critics were quick to warn that such adulation risks further normalizing American interventionism and endless war—both of which McCain has consistently and enthusiastically supported—in the name of rejecting what the Arizona senator labeled "spurious nationalism."
"Trump's ascension to the presidency has fooled many into believing that conservatives are now their friends—despite the fact that their votes consistently prove otherwise."
—Eleanor Sheehan, Splinter News
"McCain's speech was designed to flatter Americans with self-glorifying tales of exceptionalism and nobility. And of course, it worked," Glenn Greenwald, co-founder of The Intercept, wrote on Twitter Tuesday. "Many Americans will cheer and swoon and applaud for any speech that tells them how great and noble and kind their country and its wars are."
Though McCain's remarks didn't contain a single mention of President Donald Trump, his speech was widely perceived as an attack on the president and his "nationalistic" supporters, like Breitbart executive chairman and former White House chief advisor Steve Bannon.
In a passage of the speech that was widely and favorably quoted, McCain declared that Americans are "the custodians of ideals at home, and their champions abroad," and that the U.S. has "done great good in the world."
"That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did," McCain continued. "We have a moral obligation to continue our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don't. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn't deserve to."
Contrary to the sentiment of the applauding chorus, Greenwald characterized these lines as precisely the kind of "jingoistic revisionism about U.S. benevolence" that has fueled America's endless wars overseas.
While McCain claimed to be attacking nationalism in the name of American "ideals," he was in reality merely pushing his own version of U.S. nationalism that "has cheered countless wars and left a massive body count of innocents all over the world," Greenwald concluded.
The irony is McCain was cheered for denouncing "half-baked, spurious nationalism" while his whole speech (& career) was based purely in that
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) October 17, 2017
Eleanor Sheehan of Splinter News expressed a similar sentiment in response to the American media's overwhelming praise for McCain's speech.
"Trump's ascension to the presidency has fooled many into believing that conservatives are now their friends—despite the fact that their votes consistently prove otherwise," Sheehan concluded. "By enabling a 'spurious' nationalist like Trump through the approval his 'half-baked' policies, doesn't that make McCain somewhat of nationalist himself—or at least partially culpable?"