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The Khan Con and Other Modern Discontents

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

At its quadrennial national convention, the Democratic Party aimed a sucker punch at the ample jaw of Donald Trump, and, lo, the sucker took it with full force. I speak of the Khan affair, which, at this point, hardly needs rehearsing. Its debasing effect on democratic -- lowercase "d" -- politics will be with us throughout this already debased year.


The idea of provoking the provokable Trump into a boxing match with the Pakistani-born parents of a U.S. officer killed in Iraq must go down as a master-stroke more brilliant than anything the lusterless Hillary Clinton could have come up with on her own. Yes! Have the father of a Muslim-American war hero go before national cameras and lean on Trump for nativism and ignorance. Then, watch Trump punch back, showing natural resentment, suggesting that the late officer's mother, though present at the convention, had kept quiet because she "wasn't allowed to have anything to say."

A Khan job, you could call it -- a thorough one in which the officer's father, Khizr Khan, called Trump "a person without a soul" and his mother, Ghazala Khan, offered her own riposte in a signed Washington Post op-ed piece. The occasion permitted the Khans to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan's and Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's endorsements of Trump.

Yeah, yeah, smirked the Democrats. Don't take our word for Trump's moral disabilities -- take the word of the parents of an American war hero. Sen. John McCain, whose military heroism Trump questioned needlessly and stupidly last year, chimed in saying Trump had gone too far. Butter failed to melt in President Barack Obama's mouth as he signaled his own agreement with the anti-Trump backlash.

Previously unsung though he was, Capt. Humayun Khan has become the most celebrated American casualty of the war since his photo adorned the DNC rostrum, in spite of his courage in the leadership role that cost him his life.


As it happened, the flap over Trump's lack of empathy and political judgment partially obscured Clinton's untruth -- to put it more politely than she deserves -- on "Fox News Sunday." Our former secretary of state, who skirted federal indictment for recklessness of her custody of State Department emails, said, "(FBI) Director Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I've said is consistent with what I have told the American people."

Madam, madam, that's not what he said at all! He faulted you for carelessness in handling communications that dealt with and affected national security. It's bad enough to have initiated and presided over such a state of affairs. But then, to assume the TV audience's complaisance in your own version of events? Wow!

The Washington Post's fact-checking department gave the Democratic Party nominee a rating of "Four Pinocchios" (you remember the puppet boy whose nose grew when he lied) for her spin on the narrative. What fun (of a sort) it will be during the debates this fall to see whether Trump catches her for lying before she lands one on his nose for inhumanity toward a Muslim Gold Star Mother.

The present election campaign is far from the Republic's happiest -- far, far, far. Trump can't keep his mouth shut when common sense directs he should. Clinton can't open hers without suggesting -- oh, my goodness -- that everything she has ever done, except, maybe, campaigning for Barry Goldwater in 1964, was for the benefit of a country she loves beyond measure.


Politics, as Mr. Dooley remarked in the 19th century, ain't bean-bag. There is meanness aplenty all along the campaign trail. Nevertheless, we depend in some measure on the good judgment and, yes, the simple patriotism of the candidates to shun the kind of cynicism and contempt for truth that debase not only the political process but the whole idea of democracy.

The American people have every right to feel used and put-upon by self-seekers this electoral season. Donald Trump was supposed to be part of the answer. He seems to barely understand what the question was. Hillary Clinton, for her part, hears a different question: How'd you ever become so wonderful? "Well, you see," she begins...

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