Blog: Just Basic Decency

The recent personal attacks on the late Senator John McCain by Trump remind me of a story that I will tell you now.

I was elected Mayor of Fort Lee, New Jersey when I was 28. Our chief of police was long serving and one of the pillars of the well-entrenched, corrupt political machine that was overthrown by my election. The chief ran his department with an iron hand. Police officers were not allowed to have facial hair, women were not permitted on the force, those who did not kowtow to him were assigned to midnight duty and so on. 

The above were his minor infractions. More serious was that he handed out gold badges to his friends to show police officers when stopped for traffic violations, that local merchants were pressured to “donate” to a slush fund and that, occasionally, serious criminals mysteriously escaped justice. 

When I publicly asked why reputed members of the underworld were frequent visitors in the chief’s office, you can imagine the s—t hit the fan. The chief sued me for libel. During depositions, the chief lied under oath, and we finally agreed to let him retire immediately rather than be fired.

Now we come to the point of this tale. When the chief died a few years later, the press called me for a comment. My comment was plain and simple: “My condolences to his family.” The reporters wanted more. “Is that all you have to say?” the reporters asked, expecting some sharp criticism of the deceased.

“The man is dead,” I stuck to my guns. “He has passed on. There is nothing more for me to say.” At that young age, I possessed a modicum of common decency so that, even though I disliked the chief immensely, I kept my trap shut.

Is it too much to ask that our president restrain himself when referring to a war hero who has passed on? We are not talking politics here or policy—just basic decency.  

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