Like it or not, the United States has a two-party system of government. Third parties like Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party or Ross Perot’s run on the Reform ticket went nowhere.

But to function democratically at any point in time, the two-party system requires a majority party capable of governing and a loyal opposition party in the minority, acting with a measure of bi-partisanship. For most of the time since the Civil War, that arrangement has worked rather well.

At some point in later 20th century, however, it did become difficult to distinguish between the two. For example the domestic policies of Republican Richard Nixon were arguably slightly to the left of the domestic policies of Democrat Bill Clinton.

However, even then, there was no descent into chaos, cooperation across the aisle not in-frequently took place, the judiciary remained a fairly reliable independent body, and a free press (not yet declared “enemy of the people” by the White House) kept a watchful eye on the process.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, along with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, speaks to supporters of Romney’s presidential campaign at a rally at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona, in 2012. McCain died Saturday at the age of 81. Flickr: Gage Skidmore

With the passing of Sen. John McCain can be seen the end of a Republican Party capable either of governing or of acting as a loyal opposition. Corruption and amorality are now the defining characteristics of the Grand Old Party. A few hold-outs like Ben Sasse (R-Nebraska) or Susan Collins (R-Maine) are hardly enough to balance the majority of GOP senators willing to look the other way or to actively condone the rapidly spreading rot at the top. Even the once forthright Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has knuckled under.

Abe Lincoln must be spinning in his grave.

Now that the Mueller investigation is closing in on Donald Trump’s inner circle (probably including members of his immediate family) and threatening to reveal his deep financial obligations to Russian oligarchs, the specter of active and open obstruction of justice by the president himself looms large and the supine leaders of the congressional Republican party, a party that Trump has managed to dispatch and then resurrect as a zombie in his own likeness, looms before the nation.

Were the GOP made up largely of men and women of John McCain’s character, this would not be the plight we face. His devotion to country above party has no parallel today. His 2008 concession speech, a model of decency and rectitude, is but a reminder of the past.

John McCain was the Republican Party that was … but is no more.

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About the Author

  • Stephen O'Harrow

    Stephen O’Harrow is a professor of Asian Languages and currently one of the longest-serving members of the faculty at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. A resident of Hawaii since 1968, he’s been active in local political campaigns since the 1970s and is a member of the Board of Directors, Americans for Democratic Action/Hawaii.