It’s hard to know where to begin with Donald Trump, the human bonfire otherwise known as the Republican nominee for president, a man so tactless that he unleashed a barrage of attacks on the parents of a fallen war hero. But what we know is this: Trump does not believe in America.
Trump appears to hate the very things that define us, this that some would say make us exceptional.
He does not believe in the strength of the republic itself, nor in the breadth of our innovation or pioneering spirits. Trump demands that we forget that this ever-perfecting union was built by a grand diversity of people from various walks of life. That it was built by men and women like Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who gave everything based on the collective ideal that the measure of this nation is not found in what it gives to us, but for what we give to it.
As party leaders groused privately about the latest salvo in what has arguably become the most ethno-nationalistic campaign run by a major candidate in the modern era, Trump faced what was likely the most consequential test of his character and—predictably—he failed.
Detailing how their son died after a suicide bomb attack in Baghdad 12 years ago, Khizr and Ghazala Khan posited that if Trump had been president they never could have immigrated from Pakistan to the U.S. in the 1970s. Their son, one of three, would never have enlisted in the U.S. Army and would not have been there to take those 10 last steps to save his unit.
Trump might have mustered some grace, thanked them for their son’s sacrifice, and extended his prayers for their peace and healing. He either would not or could not do that.
It became clear in the hours and days that followed, as Trump engaged in public warring with Capt. Khan’s parents— people who dared question his draconian immigration policies, not to mention his familiarity with the U.S. Constitution—that he has precious little appreciation for our history or our traditions. He is abundantly comfortable, it seems, with placing his fragile, outsized ego ahead of our nation’s values. He certainly had no problem comparing his business pursuits, conducted in the garish confines of a New York office tower festooned in gold leaf, to the sacrifices made by members of our nation’s military on the battlefield.
Breathlessly posting insults to social media—using the sort of brutish rhetoric most common among gun-toting, Third World warlords— Trump revealed that he not only does not hold Gold Star families sacrosanct, but that he eschews the very nature of our highest ideals.
Trump does not believe in us. He does not share our values. Trump’s America is a decidedly bleak, dystopian wasteland that—without his leadership—will be invaded and pillaged by marauders. He, alone, is equipped to save us, at least according to him. His most ardent and demonstrable displays of patriotism are not to this country—not to our interest, both foreign and domestic—but to himself and his own interests.
“Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism,” George Washington told us in his farewell address, published in a 1796 edition of the American Daily Advertiser.
“Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections,” Washington wrote. “The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism… You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together.”
It is not a matter of where Trump stands on the ideological spectrum, as Washington made no mention of liberal or conservative principles. Besides, Trump’s conservative bona fides have always been as thin and ephemeral as the morning dew against the heat of the rising sun. Thus, we can dispense with the notion that we were collectively outraged as he angrily hurled brickbats during televised interviews because some of us may not agree with him on the political questions of the day.
If there is a line of decency—a such thing as “too far” in this political environment—Trump catapulted over it and stuck a landing worthy of an Olympic bid.
His rebuke for the Khan’s, which included accusations that the Clinton campaign wrote the blistering speech delivered on the floor of the DNC, that the Khans had “no right” to challenge his familiarity with the Constitution, and that the late soldier’s mother was likely muzzled by culture and forbidden to address the crowd, was an assault on America.
And we should take it personally.
Without irony, Trump tweeted that Khizr Khan had “no right to stand in front of millions of people and claim I have never read the Constitution, (which is false) and say many other inaccurate things.”
Not only had Trump provided prima facie evidence of Khan’s assertion, he did so with the ugliness of a dagger moth. He either hasn’t read the Bill of Rights (or the full Constitution) or he doesn’t understand the text.
American philosopher and historian Noam Chomsky was clear in his warning that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.”
Those rights, those equal protections, are the very foundation of the American ideal—of our storied exceptionalism.
Khizr Khan, an attorney, could not have been more right when he said Trump “wants to have one set of rights for himself and he wants to have another set of rights for others.”
Make no mistake. As the son of immigrants, a practicing Muslim who became a highly decorated military officer and who died in service of this country—Capt. Khan was the very embodiment of that exceptionalism. His was the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the nation that demands so little from its citizenry in return.
If American exceptional is real, Trump clearly has not seen it nor does he believe in it. To find it, he need only look at the lived life of Army Capt. Humayun Khan. The fallen hero would not have liked what Trump had to say about his parents, but he fought and died for his right to say it.
Trump should say “thank you” and shut up.