As you definitely heard, John McCain died this past weekend. Also, John McCain was petty as fuck.
JOHN MCCAIN’S PETTINESS WAS BAD
Here’s one bummer example: in 2006, McCain sponsored the first national, whole economy climate change bill with his buddy and noted wet blanket Joe Lieberman. In 2009, when a federal climate change bill came the closest it ever has to passing: the bill cleared the House, and it was President Obama’s 1B priority after the ACA. McCain was instrumental in shooting the thing down.
Since McCain campaigned during the 2008 election to stop climate change, we are left to conclude that the reason for his opposition to the 2009 climate bill is the fact that Obama smoked him in the general election.
JOHN MCCAIN’S PETTINESS WAS GOOD
On the other hand, the other president that McCain lost an election to—George W. Bush—was on some shady shit. McCain hated that guy. McCain certainly believed in campaign finance reform and banning torture, but his hatred of George W. Bush certainly didn’t hurt the cause.
SPORTS PETTINESS IS BAD
One reason I love baseball is its long history. Baseball’s long story is full of sages (Jackie Robinson, Stan Musial, Rickey Henderson) and madmen (Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Rickey Henderson.)
Baseball has always been a mirror to American life; sometimes, like when it was the first national institution to be integrated by Jackie and other civil rights activists, it’s a beautiful thing. Or—like when the major leagues enthusiastically marked the end of Reconstruction and beginning of Jim Crow by becoming some of the first national institutions to segregate themselves—it can show the worst of us.
The petty act of intentionally throwing at a batter is another (albeit lesser) flavor of baseball shittiness. Pitchers will throw as hard as they can at a batter for some sort of transgression, like having too much fun, making more money than the pitcher, or hitting too many home runs.
Beanballs are extremely petty. Pitchers throw them when they feel that they get “showed up” by a batter (though there is a more understandable retaliatory beanball practice that is supposed to protect hitters… which is kind of self defeating.) It’s all posturing. It’s the same nonsense, toxic masculinity that President Trump embodies.
SPORTS PETTINESS IS GOOD
Basketball is by far the most petty sport. When Michael Jordan was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he used his speech to air out old beefs. For 20 minutes. The beefs were 20 years old (sometimes older) and directed at people who he owned/did not matter, like Bryon Russell, who is mostly known as the victim of MJ’s most famous highlight. MJ spent minutes of his Hall of Fame speech recounting an offhand conversation in 1994 which Russell claimed he could guard His Airness, which is hilarious on its face, and probably therefore never happened.
However, MJ remembered this alleged conversation in 1996, and told Russell about it, and then 13 years later told the world about it:
So when I did decide to come back in 1995, and then we played Utah in ’96, I’m at the Center Circle and Bryon Russell is sitting next to me and I look over at Bryon and I said ‘do you remember this conversation you made in 1994, when you said ‘I think I can guard you, I can shut you down, and I would love to play against you.’ I said, ‘Well, you about to get your chance.’ And believe me, ever since that day, he got his chance. I don’t know how successful he was, but I think he had his chance, and believe me from that day forward, if I ever saw him in shorts, I’m coming at him.
Steph Curry has a noted rivalry with LeBron James, stemming from their back and forth in the NBA Finals. When Steph’s Warriors beat Bron’s Cavs in 2017, Bron posted a very silly video in which he was working out ostentatiously and rapping/singing along to revenge-type music. Soon thereafter, Steph was seen repeating the same moves in a mocking way, at the urging of Kyrie Irving, whom LeBron had more or less run out of town in Cleveland, at a wedding.
Petty dunks are the most literal manifestation of general basketball pettiness. One of my favorite writers, Shea Serrano, has crafted describing petty dunks into an entire, glorious genre. Shea describes a disrespectful, petty dunk thusly:
How do you know when a dunk is disrespectful?
That’s like asking me “How do you know when you’re in love?” or “How do you know when to masturbate?” You just sort of know because you feel it. It’s those big dunks; those nasty dunks; those violent dunks. Dunks where, when they happen, you just instinctively go, “OH FUCCCCCCCCCCK!” or you go, “YOOOOOOOOOOOO!” or you go, “HAHAHAHAHA OH MY GOD.” It’s dunks like that.
Joel Embiid's dunk over Aron Baynes to the voice of Jim Ross pic.twitter.com/zUBlVF5SzZ
— caine (@cainelovescali) May 5, 2018
The coup de grace:
Man bun is in NBA just to get dunked on
— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) May 22, 2018
(“Man bun” is the dunk victim, Aron Baynes, ICYMI.)
Meanwhile, in football, mediocre-at-best receiver Michael Crabtree was wearing a gold chain during games in 2017. Shutdown corner Aqib Talib noticed that a while back, and it bothered him. So Aqib grabbed the chain, which seems like the only appropriate way to handle the situation.
But later in the year, when Talib’s Broncos and Crabtree’s Raiders met up again, Crabtree was still wearing the chain. To make sure that Talib wouldn’t grab it for a second time, Crabtree taped the chain to his body.
So naturally, Talib swiped the gold chain a second time and laughed and laughed and laughed, in an A+ petty moment:
He has just been wearing that gold chain all year; it’s just been growing on me. I said if he wears that chain in front of me, I’m going to snatch it off. He wore it in front of me, so I had to snatch it off. He started crying to the ref. He didn’t say nothing to me though.
ARETHA FRANKLIN’S PETTINESS IS GOOD
Aretha was the Queen, knew she was the Queen, and so she didn’t have time for Patti LaBelle, the most prominent pretender to her throne:
TAYLOR SWIFT’S PETTINESS IS BAD
Taylor Swift was probably the kind of kid (I am also this kind of kid) who took a lunch her parents packed to school and also had partial lunch money for like a cookie or soda or something.
That’s why Taylor thought that she could get away with making Kanye West the bad guy again after the whole “Famous” thing.
Unfortunately for Taylor, her pettiness did not work. With this move, Kim Kardashian basically took Taylor’s lunch, took one bite out of the sandwich, and then threw it all away, and then took the money and went and bought a Snickers and ate the whole candy bar real, real slow right in front of her.
TRUMP’S PETTINESS IS BAD, BUT PREDICTABLE
The latest example of President Trump’s pettiness: he decided to deny John McCain, a gigantically flawed man who nonetheless was a giant of American politics, the respect he was due, because of a petty feud.
Yeah, there are petty feuds in politics, always have, always will be, but they’ve become way, way too important under Trump’s leadership. Trump is motivated by spite and loathing; his petty resentment of Obama seems to be the motivating factor behind Trump’s administration. Trump doesn’t care about policy, only his resentment/liking of the person associated with a given policy.
Plus, the McCain episode adds to the larger trend with Trump of ignoring norms and values that make democracy functional and legitimate. In a democracy, you must recognize the legitimate political participation of your opponents, even—especially—when they win.
Of course, Trump has been like this for 40 years, so it’s not like it’s a huge surprise.