When Khizr Khan reached into his suit pocket Thursday night, pulled out his copy of the U.S. Constitution and thrust it toward the camera as a rebuke to and as protection against Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, I remember hoping with all my heart that Trump was somewhere watching.
Oh, he was watching alright.
Almost immediately, Trump launched a counterattack that continues to this day. Among other things, he snidely suggested that Ghazala Khan, mother of the late Capt. Humayan Khan, had stood mute at her husband’s side during his speech because as a Muslim woman she was not permitted to talk.
(UPDATE AT 1 p.m.: The Veterans of Foreign Wars has issued a sharp condemnation of Trump’s behavior toward the Khans. It is reprinted at the bottom of this column.)
As Trump has now learned to his chagrin, that was not the case. In a later TV interview, Mrs. Khan explained her silence at the convention with devastating honesty. She did not speak, she said, because she lacked the composure to do so:
“First of all, I thank all America who listened from their heart to my husband’s and my heart, and I’m so grateful for that. And it was very nervous because I cannot see my son’s picture, and I cannot even come in the room where his pictures are. And that’s why when, I saw the picture at my back [on the video screen], I couldn’t take it. I controlled myself at that time. So it was, it is, very hard.”
She also recalled one of her last conversations with her son, before he shipped with his unit to Iraq:
“I keep telling him, ‘be safe, and don’t be a hero. Don’t become hero for me, just be my son. Come back as a son.’ He came back as a hero.”
Her husband added:
“She is my coach. I would think of something that…and she would say, ‘No, don’t say this.’ So she was my coach. She was there. I was strengthened by her presence. Forty years of marriage has brought us in a position where we are strength for one another. So her being there was the strength that I could hold my composure. I am much weaker than she is in such matters.”
Look again at that last sentence: “I am much weaker than she is in such matters.” It is inconceivable that Trump could ever utter those words or anything like them. Yet Khizr Khan can say them and be enlarged by them, ennobled by them.
In an interview with George Stephanopoulus, Trump was also asked about Khan’s assertion that the billionaire had sacrificed nothing for his country, certainly nothing to compare to the loss of a son. Trump of course disagreed.
“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs. Tens of thousands of jobs.”
Most normal human beings would understand instinctively that the “sacrifices” that brought you billions of dollars in wealth are not sacrifices at all, that a sacrifice is something that you offer for the greater good without wanting, demanding or getting something even larger in return. And most human beings would surely recognize that it is grotesque to compare such a “sacrifice” in any way to the loss of a beloved son in the line of duty. Trump is devoid of such instincts.
Even now, after a weekend of terrible news coverage, Trump cannot let it go. He got out of bed this morning and once again resumed the battle against the Khan family. Here’s what he sent out to begin what is now Day Four of this mini-drama:
“This story is not about Mr. Khan,” he fumes, yet Trump insists on making it about Mr. Khan. This on-going obsession with senseless retaliation reveals much more than the gaping chasm at the core of Trump’s character. It also confirms the central argument of the Clinton campaign:
“Donald Trump can’t even handle the rough-and-tumble of a presidential campaign,” Hillary Clinton said in her acceptance speech. “He loses his cool at the slightest provocation. When he’s gotten a tough question from a reporter. When he’s challenged in a debate. When he sees a protestor at a rally. Imagine him in the Oval Office facing a real crisis. A man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons.”
A sane, balanced and competent candidate for president would never engage in a public and extended war of words with the parents of a fallen soldier. A sane candidate would have acknowledged the Khans’ sacrifice and their right as Americans to express their opinion, and then quickly moved on. Trump has not, and he has not because he lacks even the minimal level of judgment, maturity and self-control needed to do so.
Clearly, none of that is going to change, ever. What may change — what absolutely should change — is the willingness of Trump supporters to ignore these neon-lit, billboard-sized signs of the dangers that Trump poses to their party, to their country and to their own sense of self-respect as patriotic Americans. What’s it going to take? At what point will the shame and embarrassment of supporting such a charlatan finally become too much to bear?
“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents,” Sen. John McCain said today. “He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States — to say nothing of entering its service. I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”
Yet Trump still stands as the nominee of McCain’s Republican Party, as its chosen standard bearer, as its leader, as its voice, as the person whom they want to elect as our next president. It is not possible to support such a man and then try to pretend that you do not besmirch yourself in the course of doing so.