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Beneath contempt

Forget everything else the president has said, done and tweeted. The thousands of lies? The insults to election opponents, to the parents of a dead soldier, to long-standing allies? Put them all aside. Donald Trump’s behavior following the death of Arizona Sen. John McCain was something all Americans should agree was beneath contempt.

Trump has never liked McCain, and the Arizona senator was frequently critical of his fellow Republican. During his campaign, Trump famously said that McCain “was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” Despite that insult, McCain supported Trump’s campaign until the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump bragged about assaulting women.

Later, McCain cast a key vote on the Senate floor to defeat the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, something at the top of Trump’s priority list. And McCain was characteristically blunt in reacting to Trump’s performance in a press conference after his summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, when Trump blasted Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. election and declined to criticize Putin for election interference.

“Today’s press conference in Helsinki was one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory,” McCain said.

Perhaps. But Trump’s performance after McCain’s death on Saturday was, if anything, even more so.

As a U.S. Navy pilot, John McCain was held prisoner in a North Vietnamese prison camp for five and a half years, enduring repeated torture that left him permanently damaged. His captors offered to release him as a gesture because he was the son of a Navy admiral, but he refused to be released ahead of his fellow prisoners of war. After his return, he went on to serve 30 years in the U.S. Senate until his death on Saturday from an aggressive form of brain cancer.

It was at that point that a normal adult — especially one who happens to lead the most powerful nation on Earth — would summon the maturity to rise above old disagreements, even longstanding feuds, and honor the passing of this prominent American leader.

Not Trump. First, he issued the briefest of tweets, expressing “sympathies and respect” to McCain’s family — but without mentioning McCain. The Washington Post reported that White House staff had drafted an official statement about McCain, but Trump refused to release it.

Then, the U.S. flag atop the White House, which was lowered to half staff upon McCain’s death, was raised to full staff again on Monday morning — in keeping with strict protocol, but breaking with longstanding tradition followed by previous presidents. After an outcry from all sides and a plea from the American Legion, Trump ordered the flag lowered again until McCain’s interment on Sunday. He then issued a statement saying, “despite our personal differences on policy and politics, I respect Sen. John McCain’s service to our country.” And he folded his arms, scowled and refused to comment when reporters asked him about McCain at the White House, looking like a petulant toddler.

That was all.

Would it have killed him to be gracious on the occasion of the death of a longtime adversary? Apparently he thought so.

You don’t have to be a great fan of McCain — who had his faults — or an enemy of Trump to recognize that the president’s behavior was a disgrace to the office he holds.