John McCain-Donald Trump has happened before

John McCain, 1973

John McCain, 1973

Earlier this morning, after dropping my son off at school, I heard the news that John McCain had discontinued brain cancer treatment, and will—in all heartbreaking likelihood—pass in the coming days or weeks.

I didn’t cry, but I came close.

Say what you will about John McCain’s political leanings (I’ve agreed with many stances, disagreed with many stances), but he has been the rare open-minded senator throughout his career and—of late—one of the few Republicans willing to call out Donald Trump. For me, McCain represents what can be righteous about politics. We can argue, we can debate, we can huff and puff and pout and steam. But, ultimately, we are humans, and disagreements are merely disagreements. Hell, Biden’s closest friend in the senate was Joe Biden, a Democrat. That tells you something.

I digress.

As John McCain has battled through brain cancer, the president has done everything to stomp all over him. There has been nary a single moment of empathy, of decency, of kindness, of outreach. Of course, it all began when Trump ridiculed the senator for his time as a Vietnam POW, insisting real heroes aren’t captured (Handy reminder: Donald Trump received five deferments). Since winning the election in 2016, Trump has never ceased. Hell, on Aug. 13 Trump signed a $716 billion defense bill NAMED FOR JOHN MCCAIN—but made zero mention of the senator, who everyone knew was gravely ill.

This is nothing new.



Back in February of 1985, John Bassett—owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the United States Football League—learned from a CAT scan that he had two spots on his brain (both tumors). A Toronto businessman who loved football and absolutely loved the USFL, Bassett was popular with both his players and his fellow owners. He was one of the people who believed in the league’s vision from the near get-go; who thought spring football in unique marketplaces with regional drafts just might work.

This, however, was not the vision of Donald Trump, owner of the New Jersey Generals. Trump insisted the USFL needed to move to fall and take on the NFL. He was bombastic and rude and arrogant, and Bassett—perhaps the smartest of the owners, and certainly the savviest—knew what was going on. He saw through Trump. The greed. The bluster. Come to think of it, this letter—written in 1984—tells you everything you need to know about the man …

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Because of the contrasting visions, Trump considered Bassett—a fellow owner—to be the enemy. And when he let it be known that he was battling brain cancer (“I’m sure some people are thinking doomsday,” Bassett said at the time. “Well, no sad songs. They’re out of place.”), Trump showed the empathy of a viper moving in on a mouse. He charged forward with his fall plans. Save for a quick “We’re all sad for John” comment during a TV interview, he never checked in, never reached out, never showed a morsel of compassion. It was strictly business, and with Bassett ailing—then gone—Trump could operate as he pleased. If anything, Trump felt even more compelled and free to do as he desired—namely, to try and force the merger that would land him an NFL franchise.

On May 14, 1986, John Bassett died at age 47.

The funeral, held two days later at St. John’s Anglican Church in Toronto, was packed.

Donald Trump did not attend.

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 * “Football for a Buck: The Crazy Rise and Crazier Demise of the USFL,” drops 9.11 and is available for pre-order now.

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