Sunday morning's headlines opened with the latest high-profile controversy swirling around billion-dollar businessman and presidential hopeful Donald Trump, following a presidential forum held on Saturday in Iowa in which Trump declared that John McCain, a five-year prisoner during the Vietnam War, "is no war hero" -- at least, not in his book.
"He's not a war hero. He's a war hero because he was captured," Trump said with his trademark pomposity and steadfast hair. "I like people who weren't captured."
Entirely predictably, the comment drew expressions of great outrage from across the country, and even from those who had remained silent throughout Trump's other recent statements of ridiculous fact that Mexican immigrants were rapists, for one; for another, that he wasn't worth $4 billion but, in fact, $10 billion. With the McCain jab, however -- seen as a jab against all veterans -- silence was broken.
Wisconsin governor Scott Walker tweeted, "@SenJohnMcCain is an American hero, period. I'll denounce any attack against his service and anyone else who wears the uniform."
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry called for Trump to drop out of the race, period.
And yet, without endorsing Trump -- his views, or even his hair -- there's something entirely refreshing about a politician who is so baldly unafraid to speak his or her mind, no matter how it might come across, whom his views might offend, or how doing so might impact his chances for election.
Getting elected is, of course, the whole point, but too much of that these days has come down to which candidate has offended the fewest people. Perhaps it's time to ask ourselves: Is that really what we want? The least offensive commander-in-chief? We barely want that person for a friend, never mind a world leader.
Or would we instead be far better off with political leaders -- and perhaps especially a president -- with a strong, unabashed, and unwavering point of view, and the guts to express it out loud, no matter how unfavorable it might be? Would we be better off with leaders who are totally upfront and honest about the views they have? Wouldn't we?
Of course we would. And yet we undeniably live in a culture that's come to fear offending anyone. That's precisely why Trump's statements seem so shocking -- we're just not used to hearing how politicians actually think, versus how they think we want them to think. And that's a shame.
So when Trump after nearly 24 hours of backlash, still refused to apologize to McCain during an interview that ran on ABC's This Week, I couldn't help but cheer. Not because I agree with him. It's hard to deny that anyone who endured beatings for five years while in service of our country isn't some kind of hero (though, sure, it's probably better to avoid being captured).
I cheered because Trump, unlike basically everyone else, refused to play along with the soppy, milquetoast, people-pleasing society into which we've necessarily devolved. There's a reason Hillary Clinton has been called boring. She really is. In fact, it's an almost certain part of her campaign strategy and surely something her (very skilled) advisers have told her was to her benefit. I think that's also a shame.
Trump's whole agenda, meanwhile, is provocation, which isn't to say he doesn't believe what he's saying. But he's also so over the top, so almost unbelievably bold, that he's become something of a parody of himself. And it feels as if he's fully in on the joke, which he may be. We could use that. We could use a little provocation and a little humor besides.
Studies have shown that too many Americans are politically apathetic, and getting even more so. In a 2010 Pew Center report, Millennials scored below all other age groups on all but two questions in a 13-question political news quiz. In 2014, voter turn out among all age groups was the lowest it's been since World War II. People just don't care anymore. So if someone truly strident serves to do nothing more than wake people up and make people fume, well, that alone is worth the price of admission.
Unfortunately, this time Trump may have gone a little too far, even for him. The considerable backlash he's facing may actually offer affirmation to fearful politicians that yes, it really is best to lie low, avoid controversy, and speak your mind only after it's been carefully vetted by a dozen political strategists, three of the very best speechwriters, and an army of advisers. No one wants to be like Trump. At least not today.
Then again, whose name was it on the front page of all the newspapers?