One of the most arresting and emotionally potent moments of the Democratic National Convention was a speech delivered by the father of a US solider killed in Iraq. "Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died in a car bombing in 2004 in Iraq as he tried to save other troops," the New York Times reported. Captain Khan was 27 years old when his life was cut short by the Islamist enemy he'd volunteered to fight. ISIS has posthumously denounced him as "an apostate." That young man was a hero, and every American should mourn his loss with somber and profound gratitude. Twelve years later, with his grief-stricken wife standing by his side, Khizr Khan -- Humayun's father -- sharply criticized Donald Trump from the stage in Philadelphia. He withdrew a copy of the US constitution from his pocket during his remarks and held it aloft, challenging the Republican presidential nominee to read the document. (Sales of the constitution have since spiked nationwide). Khan's brief remarks pushed back forcefully against what he called Trump's "consistent smear[ing]" of American Muslims, accused the billionaire of "sowing division," and asserted that Trump has "sacrificed nothing and no one" for the country.
This is a scathing attack. Was it out of bounds? I'd argue that it was not, just as I argued that Banghazi mother Patricia Smith was entitled to have her say in Cleveland. A few points: First, Byron York makes a good case that Mr. Khan at least partially distorted the substance of Trump's immigration proposals vis-a-vis Muslims and terrorism -- which, in fairness to Khan, have been revised several times. Second, the notion that Trump has adopted a deeply divisive campaign posture is self-evident. Third, the line about Trump's sacrifices, or lack thereof, was probably the most personal, most cutting, and least fair portion of the speech, even if one wants to argue that it's accurate. What has Hillary Clinton, Khan's preferred candidate, ever "sacrificed" on this level? ("Public service," i.e., the relentless pursuit of power, doesn't count). Regardless of any of that, the Khans' loss is unimaginable to most Americans, and their family's sacrifice must be honored unequivocally. Their son epitomized the very best that our nation has to offer, and he courageously elected to embrace precisely the sort of life path that many western critics of Islamism have demanded of their domestic Muslim populations. In addition, his father has been a fierce critic of Islamist extremism. Thus, through word and deed, the Khans' loyalty to our country's core values is beyond reproach. When Trump was asked about Khizr's convention message by ABC News, the candidate responded poorly:
Granted, not every element of this answer is objectionable. But it is mind-boggling that Trump whiffed on a clear opportunity to express admiration for the Khan's son and condolences their loss, the obviously decent and human thing to do. Even as a calculation of pure political self interest, I cannot fathom how Trump couldn't manage to at least feign sympathy and graciousness. For many, watching the above clip elicits a visceral reaction: What is wrong with him? The bit about Mrs. Khan having 'nothing to say' -- and the gratuitous speculation that perhaps she wasn't 'allowed' to speak for some unmentioned reason -- is simply odious. As it turns out, Ghazala Khan chose not to speak because she remains overwhelmed with sadness whenever she thinks or talks about her late son. She replied to Trump's insinuations in the Washington Post over the weekend:
Donald Trump has asked why I did not speak at the Democratic convention. He said he would like to hear from me. Here is my answer to Donald Trump: Because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart. Donald Trump said I had nothing to say. I do. My son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died 12 years ago in Iraq. He loved America, where we moved when he was 2 years old. He had volunteered to help his country, signing up for the ROTC at the University of Virginia. This was before the attack of Sept. 11, 2001. He didn’t have to do this, but he wanted to...Every day I feel the pain of his loss. It has been 12 years, but you know hearts of pain can never heal as long as we live. Just talking about it is hard for me all the time. Every day, whenever I pray, I have to pray for him, and I cry. The place that emptied will always be empty. I cannot walk into a room with pictures of Humayun. For all these years, I haven’t been able to clean the closet where his things are — I had to ask my daughter-in-law to do it. Walking onto the convention stage, with a huge picture of my son behind me, I could hardly control myself. What mother could? Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?
Donald Trump picked an astonishingly foolish and depraved fight here. His campaign overhauled its messaging about the Khan family late Saturday night, releasing a new statement that marked a vast improvement over the candidate's ABC interview. Still, it hit a strikingly false note:
Actually, Mr. Khan had every right to say what he said, exercising a right that his son died defending. Others have noted the irony that Trump's "he has no right" complaint came in the context of articulating umbrage at the suggestion that he hadn't read...the constitution, which guarantees the right in question. For what it's worth, both Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell issued comments on Sunday siding with the Khans and implicitly rebuking Trump.
Parting thought: I was criticized by liberals over the weekend for invoking Hillary Clinton and Benghazi as part of my reaction to the Trump/Khan flap. "False equivalency," they harrumphed, scolding me for adopting a knee-jerk "but Hillary!" defense of the GOP standard-bearer. Anyone who follows my work knows that it's ridiculous to suggest that I'm a reflexive Trump apologist. I'm nothing of the sort. And I'm not making excuses over Trump's handling of this situation; quite the contrary. What I am saying is that many of the same people who expressed indignation over Republicans "exploiting" Patricia Smith's grief at the RNC are now unabashedly cheering on the Khans. Here's just one example of the breathtaking double standard at play, which Matt also touched on last night:
Same writer, two piping hot takes. One convention speaker was being shamefully "manipulated," the other was declared a pillar of wisdom and strength. Many of these hypocrites have followed the White House's shameful lead in ridiculing Benghazi as a 'phony' controversy, offering zero criticism of Mrs. Clinton for lying to the faces of mourning Benghazi families in the days following the 2012 attack. Four different relatives from three separate families share the same recollection of what Clinton told them, which she knew to be untrue at the time. She didn't start telling the truth in public until more than a week had passed. The Democratic nominee has responded (as recently as yesterday) by calling their honesty or memory into question, while mouthing the type of softening caveats that Trump bafflingly eschewed.
This is another sort of repugnant behavior from a habitual liar who will say and do anything to further her lifelong quest for power. The degree to which many in the press have given Clinton a pass on the discrepancy between the Benghazi families' account of their meeting and her version of events is galling, especially when juxtaposed with the (deserved) Trump pile-on this weekend. The Republican nominee's thoughtless, shabby treatment of a gold star family ignited a five-alarm media firestorm. Allegations from the Smith, Woods and Doherty families barely registered a blip beyond the precincts of Fox News and the conservative blogosphere. So my objective in raising this disconnect was neither to equate nor excuse. It was to illustrate how bereaved families' grief can be greeted rather differently by the political class, depending on who the villain is.