Remembering a true American hero: In memory of John McCain

Dr. Michael Martin, Guest Columnist

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To closely paraphrase (and quote some of) the words of Former Vice President Biden’s speech in Arizona last week, “I am a Democrat;”  I served in the United States Marine Corps; and I respect and revere both the person, and now the memory of, the Honorable Senator from Arizona, John S. McCain III.

Over the past week, our nation paused at various points to watch and commemorate the life of this incredible human being. What makes him so incredible to me is his profound sense of “country first.”

This is a sense of patriotism and duty seldom witnessed among the citizenry in general, and even more extraordinary when it comes from any one specific citizen. I feel I can say this because I am getting old, old enough to be the grandparent of most of the students who might read this.
Unfortunately, the radically-divided political climate in which we currently exist made for some interesting political theatre. Personally, I would have rather had a service that was simply a time to remember the service and the astounding person, but that too is controversial for some.
Hence the term “Maverick” and the difficulties between the Executive Branch and this particular Senator. The media, both the talking heads and those who write, had more than enough to feast upon as each word and phrase was parsed in every way imaginable. I understand the how and why this might happen, especially considering what we hear or see daily.

Yet as a person directing a professional writing program, and working with amazing colleagues in my own English Department as well as the Communication Studies and Mass Communication Departments here at Bloomsburg, I think all of us wonder just what we can do as we attempt to teach rhetorical skills, decorum, and civility. These are the basic skills of anyone trying to be a citizen.

As we communicate in such a polarized environment, I think the struggle is much more basic than we often realize. It boils down to respect and seeing difference as an opportunity to learn and grow versus seeing the other as the enemy or the problem.

How have we arrived at such a point in our national identity that discussion needs to be argument? How have we reached a point where Republican or Democrat is a foul word? Can I be both liberal and patriotic? Can I be conservative and open to the other? I believe I could, and I believe we should.
You have chosen to come to an institution of higher learning not only to become a scholar or professional in your given field, you have come to learn what it means to be a citizen. Honest communication and transparency is what the academy is for. Will there be times you might hear things in a class or the hallway that might startle you? I hope so. Will you be able to express your opinion without the fear of being belittled or ostracized for an opinion that is different from another? I hope so.

I know that even what I have written here will cause some disagreement. Some will question my intentions for writing this opinionated short expose. My intentions are really quite simple. I do not care if you are an administrator, a faculty person, a staff person, or a student. You all matter.
Can we all listen and appreciate our differences? Can we commit ourselves to creating a community of seekers, individuals who choose to respect and see the other as someone from whom we might learn?

I will openly make that commitment here. I try to do it anyway, but I will put it out there as something we might all attempt to do. Am I an idealist? Perhaps, but I would like this to be a more ideal place, a place where respect and civility reign and learning occurs.  

Dr. Michael S. Martin is an Associate Professor of English Director of the Professional Writing and a  Digital Rhetoric Program USMC Veteran.