The death of Sen.
Their personal differences are indeed profound, underlining the decline in "old-fashioned" notions of duty, honor and character, and the new emphasis on personal celebrity and "winning" on your own terms. There's an obvious symbol for the chasm between the two men in that already-iconic picture of the American flag flying at full staff at the
The two men are also imperfect avatars for a deep ideological divide on the right between what might be called the forces of democracy and the forces of nationalism. And right now the nationalists are winning.
Across the world, populist movements discuss nationalism as an old idea that is new again. Nationalists aren't necessarily anti-democratic, but they emphasize a national will rooted in culture or ethnicity, not elections. It's no secret that the president styles himself a nationalist. Skeptical of international institutions or too much hand-wringing about democratic norms, Trump defines national interest in almost autocratic terms.
McCain's worldview was, properly speaking, patriotic, not nationalistic, in that it was credal, bound up in democratic principles.
Different worldviews yield different approaches.
Trump's nationalism causes him to be forgiving or even admiring of foreign despotism. McCain's patriotism led him to despise tyrannies and tyrants. McCain loathed Russian President
Both could be scathing critics of international institutions and alliances, but Trump's indictments largely revolve around any obligation that impedes his "America first" nostrums, while McCain's focused on threats to democratic values and American leadership.
In 2007, for instance, McCain proposed creating a
It would be a fitting response to both the passing of McCain and the rise of nationalism around the globe if the
Creating a separate body with more selective -- and higher -- standards, McCain argued, "would form the core of an international order of peace based on freedom," providing a counterweight to the axis of autocrats around the world.
Nations, like people, respond to incentives. Membership in an organization of shared values would give countries something to strive for beyond boosts to their GDP. The fact that embracing democracy (and a law-based liberal order) yields greater economic growth would be an added inducement.
The league wouldn't "supplant the
Right now, ascendant nationalist movements are struggling to find a common vision of their own. The problem is that these movements have no common transnational ideals, save a shared hatred for their rulers or migrants or some other group.
McCain's vision of a shared commitment to freedom is the alternative needed now, at home and abroad.