Barack Obama, a young first term senator from Illinois, burst into the public’s consciousness with his keynote address to the Democratic National Convention in 2004. He stressed, “We are not red states and blue states. We are the United States of America.” This year, his wife Michelle Obama, excited the delegates in Philadelphia with a powerful story of history, progress and optimism. When she said, “Every day, my family wakes up in a house built by slaves”, the truth and drama of that fact brought thousands to their feet, cheering, clapping and crying. Donald Trump, in contrast, ended the Republican National Convention in Cleveland with a marathon 75 minute mix of doom, gloom and fear. He abandoned any Reaganesque sunny picture of “morning in America”.
The speech that will probably be remembered as the blockbuster of both conventions was not given by a famous political figure. On July 28, the last night of the Democratic convention, Khizr Kahn, with his wife Ghazala by his side, addressed the delegates. The Kahns are Muslims who emigrated to the United States from Pakistan in l978 with their three sons. They are the parents of Army Captain Humayun Khan, 27, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. Kahn told his troops to “stand back” as he approached a suspicious vehicle across the sands. The suicide bomber in the car detonated the bomb as Kahn came near. Kahn was awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart posthumously for his courage and protection of the soldiers under his command.
Khizr Kahn, who received a graduate degree from Harvard Law School, spoke slowly and with great dignity that night. He took on Donald Trump’s hateful rhetoric toward Muslims and his call to ban Muslims from entering the country. He said,“Trump smears the character of Muslims.” Then, he posed a piercing question directly to Trump, “Let me ask you, have you even read the U.S. Constitution?” The delegates’ cheers escalated as he reached into his jacket for a small booklet and held it up. “I will gladly lend you my copy. Look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law’. Have you ever been to Arlington National Cemetery? Go look at the graves of the brave patriots who died defending the country. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.” he added.
Responses to Kahn’s speech were immediate on social media and by commentators who praised his powerful words, and questions. Yet, Donald Trump, we have learned, does not take kindly to criticism. He told George Stephanopulous of ABC , that Mr. Khan seemed like “a nice guy” and wished him “the best of luck”. However, “I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices . I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, built great structures. I’ve done – I’ve had –tremendous success. I think I’ve done a lot.” Stephanopolous interjected, “Those are sacrifices?” Trump answered, “Oh, sure. I think they’re sacrifices.”. He then touted his work to help build the Vietnam War Memorial in Manhattan. He also added, “ If you look at his wife, she was standing there, she had nothing to say, she probably — maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.”
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America issued a statement, “For ANYONE to compare their ‘sacrifice’ to a Gold Star family is insulting, foolish and ignorant. Especially someone who has never served himself and has no children serving. Our country has been at war for a decade and a half and the truth is that most Americans have sacrificed nothing. Most of them are smart and grounded enough to admit it.”
Within days, an outpouring of criticism of Trump’s attacks on both Kahns exploded in newspapers, television and social media. John McCain in a long statement sharply rebuked the Republican nominee: “While our party has bestowed upon him the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.” Senator McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain said on Twitter: “I would ask what kind of barbarian would attack the parents of a fallen soldier, but oh yeah, it’s the same person who attacks POWs.” She was, of course, referring to Trump’s flip comment months ago that “captured soldiers” were not heroes. That included her father whose plane was shot down by the enemy. He then spent five years in the “Hanoi Hilton”, the prison where he was tortured.
On Friday, Ghazala Khan spoke about her son in MSNBC’s “The Last Word”. She was in tears as she said she told her son “be safe, and don’t become a hero for me. Just be my son and come back as a son.’ He came back as a hero.” ` Mrs. Kahn also told Lawrence O’Donnell she “cannot even come in the room where his pictures are.” She saw his photo on the screen behind her on the stage in Philadelphia, “I controlled myself. It is very hard.” Mr. Kahn revealed in the same interview, “ I also wanted to talk about how he’s had three wives and yet he talks about others’ ethics and their religion. I wanted to say 10 other things about him, and she said, ‘Don’t go to his level. We are paying tribute to our son.”
Hillary Clinton, spoke from her bus tour on Saturday, “ I was very moved to see Ghazala Kahn stand bravely in support of her son on Thursday. This is a time to honor the sacrifice of Captain Kahn and all the fallen.” Sunday, in a church in Cleveland, Ohio, Clinton reprimanded Trump, saying: “Mr. Kahn paid the ultimate sacrifice in his family, didn’t he? And what has he heard from Donald Trump? Nothing but insults, degrading comments about Muslims, a total misunderstanding of what made our country great.” Kahn appearing on “Meet The Press”, said Trump showed disrespect to his wife, and accused him of running a campaign “of hatred, of derision, of dividing us.”
Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for The Council on American-Islamic Relations, said: “It’s really despicable that anyone, let alone a presidential candidate, would choose to dishonor the service of an American who gave his life for this nation. Ms. Kahn was obviously there to support her husband who was offering what many people believe was the most impactful speech of the entire convention.”
By Monday, August 1, Khizr’s speech and Donald Trump’s feud with both Kahns was still the number one story on CNN, MSNBC and newspapers across the country. It was matched by Hillary Clinton’s seven point bounce from the Democratic Convention, giving her a clear lead over her opponent. Mr. Kahn and his wife have touched the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. They have put human faces on the Muslims that Donald Trump has been demeaning for months.
A final twist to the state of this presidential race is that Donald Trump has declared that the debates are “rigged” and he may not take part in them. Although the bi-partisan Commission had published the schedule for three Presidential debates and one Vice Presidential debate in September, Trump NOW has said the conflict with football games is his reason. Perhaps, it’s an attempt to change the subject from the Khans. It certainly serves to reinforce his unstable temperament and character– unfit to be a candidate for President of The United States.