The Democratic National Convention concluded Thursday with Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech, marking the first time in U.S. history that a major political party had nominated a woman for president. Clinton’s speech was upstaged by a simpler, shorter speech delivered earlier that evening.
Like many, we were struck by the forthright and dignified speech delivered by Khizr Khan, the father of the late U.S. Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, at last week’s Democratic National Convention.
Capt. Khan, a Muslim American, was killed when he investigated a suspicious vehicle that had been driven into his compound in Iraq. The vehicle, packed with an improvised explosive device, exploded.
Capt. Khan had ordered his troops to stay back, as he stepped forward. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
Khizr Khan, with his hijab-clad wife Ghazala Khan by his side, told the Democratic convention that they were there not just as proud parents but as “patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.”
His family had come to the United States with a belief in American democracy, said Khizr Khan, who was born in Pakistan.
He said his son dreamed of being a military lawyer, but “he put those dreams aside the day he sacrificed his life to save the lives of his fellow soldiers.”
Khizr Khan noted that Donald Trump “consistently smears the character of Muslims” and “disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.”
Speaking directly to Trump, he asked: “Have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”
And then he pulled said copy from his pocket and continued, “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’ ”
It was a powerful moment. But Khizr Khan wasn’t finished.
“Have you ever been to Arlington Cemetery?” he asked Trump. “Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”
Trump responded Saturday by telling ABC News that he thinks he’s “made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard.”
He also said, appallingly, of Ghazala Khan, “She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say.”
“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?” she wrote.
She also wrote: “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.”
Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak tweeted this in response to Trump’s comments: “Simple test for anyone’s interaction (with) a Gold Star family: Did you ease their pain? Did you convey our gratitude? If not, you failed.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who sought the Republican presidential nomination and lost to Trump, tweeted this: “There’s only one way to talk about Gold Star parents: with honor and respect. Capt. Khan is a hero. Together, we should pray for his family.”
On Sunday afternoon, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said this in a statement: “Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Captain Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period.”
Other Republicans weighed in, too.
U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, said in a statement: "While our party has bestowed upon (Trump) the nomination, it is not accompanied by unfettered license to defame those who are the best among us.”
And U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said this: "There used to be some things that were sacred in American politics — that you don't do — like criticizing the parents of a fallen soldier even if they criticize you."
The numerous Republicans and Democrats who assailed Trump for his remarks about the mother of a dead war hero are right. Trump should have taken the high road. But he doesn’t seem able to find it.
Trump tweeted this Sunday: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond?”
Of course, he is allowed to respond. But he should not have responded in the way he did.
His comments were so egregious that even the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars denounced them. Brian Duffy, commander in chief of the national VFW, said that ridiculing a Gold Star mother was "out of bounds," and would not be tolerated by the VFW.
"There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed," Duffy said in a statement. "Giving one's life to (our) nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by all Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard."
The truth is, few of us have sacrificed in the way the Khans have. The burden borne by our military heroes and their families is great, the weight all the heavier because it's carried by a scant few. Less than 1 percent of the U.S. population now serves in the military.
The very least we can do is to honor their service — whether they are the sons of Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence or of Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine or of Khizr and Ghazala Khan.
And this is not a partisan issue — this applies to us all: We should honor Blue Star families, including the Pence and Kaine families, who have loved ones in active military service; and Silver Star families, whose loved ones in the military are wounded or ill; and Gold Star families, whose loved ones died in service of this country.
If we can, we should do as Khizr Khan asked if Trump had, and visit Arlington National Cemetery and note the wide range of religions and ethnicities reflected on the stark white headstones there.
It was heartbreaking to see the Khans on that stage in Philadelphia, having to emphasize their loyalty to the United States. It was awful for Ghazala Khan to have to explain that she cannot speak about her son because her grief remains so overwhelming.
The Khans lost their son in the cause of this country. We — all Americans — owe them our gratitude for their immense and unimaginable sacrifice. And we owe it to them to see them, and others like them, as the patriotic Americans they so clearly are.
This editorial was updated Monday afternoon to include the statements of Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, and VFW leader Brian Duffy.