Like Charity, Patriotism Begins at Home

By Mark Shields

December 17, 2016 4 min read

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., holds an office higher than the presidency. John McCain is a patriot. Like his fellow warriors, he does not talk about the horror and the pain he endured and he lived with. The memories must no doubt be too personal and too powerful.

McCain, the most recent military veteran to be nominated for president by a major political party, has been blunt when speaking about the war and the military draft that so many of the privileged and pampered of his own contemporaries, through a phantom bone spur or a series of student deferments, avoided. And he has said: "I know very few veterans of any war who cherish a romantic remembrance of war. All wars are awful. ... Nothing, not the valor with which it is fought nor the nobility of the cause it serves, can glorify war. Whatever gains are secured by war, it is loss the veteran remembers most keenly. Only a fool or a fraud sentimentalizes the cruel and merciless reality of war."

Today McCain, as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, comes once more to the defense of his country. He summons his timid colleagues to put patriotism over party and thoroughly investigate whether the Russians used cyberwarfare to sabotage — and undermine U.S. citizens' confidence in — the American democratic system.

This is in no way any attempt to overturn the results of Nov. 8; Donald Trump won that election, and he will become the 45th president Jan. 20. No, this is about a likely act of aggression against the United States by a hostile foreign power in a pattern that power has deployed against Western democracies, including Italy and Germany.

But instead of clamoring to get on the record all that is known and to discover all that is provable about the suspected Russian plot to cripple American democracy, too many congressional Republicans — many of whom endlessly warned about and investigated the national security threats posed by Hillary Clinton's use of unauthorized personal email servers as secretary of state and the undue influence allegedly bought by foreign entities through their donations to the Clinton Foundation — are missing in action. They have little to say about Russian President Vladimir Putin, who seized Crimea from neighboring Ukraine and then supplied and supported rebels in eastern Ukraine before launching an all-out air war, in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad, against American-supported rebels and Syria's civilian population.

The most important Republican, President-elect Trump, an uncritical admirer of Putin's ("a leader far more than our president has been," someone who "has very strong control over a country"), has rejected the nearly unanimous judgment of American intelligence agencies that Russia attempted to subvert the American political campaign. His official statement attacking the CIA: "These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction." Trump, who artfully avoided military service during the Vietnam War, may never have been to Langley, Virginia, the home of the CIA, where he would have seen the 113 stars on the Memorial Wall, which represent CIA employees who have died in the line of duty. Chances are that Trump has never heard about CIA patriot Hugh Redmond, who, during 19 torture-filled years in a Shanghai prison, refused to crack. But I forgot; Trump likes "people that weren't captured."

This is not about being a Republican or a Democrat. It is about being serious Americans who demand to find out what happened and prevent foreign attacks from happening in the future. Like charity, patriotism begins at home. John McCain is a patriot long before he's a partisan. But what about his fellow Republicans?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

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