Friday, July 29, 2016

Mr. Khan

Take a good look at this face, it is the face of America. It is the official US Army portrait Captain Hunayun Khan who was killed in a car bombing in Iraq in 2004. As the suspicious vehicle entered the compound in which Captain Khan was stationed with the soldiers under his command, Khan told his troops to stand back while he checked out the vehicle. He took ten steps toward the car when it exploded. By sacrificing his life he saved the lives of those under his charge. Khan was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia, the hallowed ground across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, along with hundreds of thousands of others who served their country, many of them paying the ultimate sacrifice.

This year's presidential election is different from those that came before it. For starters, for the first time ever, a woman is the nominee of one of the two major parties. However the historical significance of that is overshadowed by the extreme nature of her opponent, a man who has never held political office. That in itself is not a first, in 1952 the Republican party nominated as its candidate the five star general who served as commander of Allied Forces during World War II, Dwight David Eisenhower. The current Republican presidential nominee has a much different resume than Eisenhower.

As we all know, Donald Trump is a real estate developer with a knack for self promotion. Long before he became a reality TV star, Trump was already well known for his glitzy buildings, Atlantic City casinos and his conspicuous display of wealth. Never holding a job in public service does not mean that Trump does not have political experience. Like many in his line of work, for decades he has been deeply connected to politicians, especially the mayors of New York City. That's why at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week, Trump was able to say that he "knows the system", which produced an uneasy chortle from the crowd.

The nomination process for both major parties has changed considerably in the sixty four years since Eisenhower was nominated. Gone are the proverbial "smoke filled rooms" where deals were brokered by party leaders who would be largely responsible for selecting the person who would lead the ticket in November. That system was replaced by the slightly more transparent primary system where most states hold public elections to choose delegates whose numbers determine the candidate.

It would be hard to argue that this is a more democratic process to select a candidate. On the flip side, it has resulted in the nomination of Donald Trump, a man who has been held at arm's length if at all, by most of the Republican leadership.

Trump's greatest skill is publicity. He knows how to get attention which is why he was able to win his party's nomination by spending a fraction of the money his opponents spent. Under the philosophy that any publicity, good or bad, works to his advantage, he did this mostly by making controversial, outrageous statements such as all Muslims should be banned from the United States.

That is where Captain Khan comes in. He was a Muslim. On his gravestone at Arlington is the Star and Crescent, the symbol of his faith, just as crosses mark the headstones of Christians and Stars of David, those of Jewish soldiers.

This week, many of us saw Captain Khan's mother and father on TV, addressing the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Khizr Khan. the dead soldier's father spoke for the two of them. If you didn't see it, please click to follow this link.

Mr. Khan spoke briefly and eloquently about honor and patriotism. As he spoke, chants of "USA USA" rose up from the crowd. If you had your eyes closed and didn't know the particulars, you may have guessed his words and those chants were coming from a Republican convention of bygone days. But open your eyes and you saw, like Captain Khan's, the face of America in all glorious shades of color, ethnicities, and religious creeds.

This election is unfortunately different as well as both candidates are highly unpopular. Most choices, at least at this point seem to focus on which candidate for whom NOT to vote. At the RNC, the incessant "USA" chant was often replaced by chants of "LOCK HER UP", in reference to the kerfuffle over Hillary Clinton's lack of email acumen.

Of course the Democrats, from Hillary Clinton on down spent much of their time lambasting Donald Trump. Vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine shouted out the mantra, "believe me" in mocking reference to one of Trump's favorite catch phrases. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "God help us" in reference to Trump's alleged business acumen as a qualification for office. President Obama in one sentence equated Trump, the "home grown demagogue" with jihadists. Here's the quote:
That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether fascists or communists or jihadis or home-grown demagogues will always fail in the end.
But nobody at the convention came as close to destroying the character of Donald Trump as Khizr Khan. He spoke of true heroism, courage, sacrifice and liberty, all things in his mind, Donald Trump knows nothing about. Mr. Khan said that his son stood for and lived those values, while if Trump had his way, Captain Khan, who came with his family from the United Arab Emirates as a child, would not have been allowed into this country. Then came the piece de resistance. Addressing Trump directly, Mr. Khan asked the candidate if he had actually read the United States Constitution. This produced a wild cheer from the crowd which hadn't let down when he pulled out a copy of our most sacred document from his jacket pocket. Then he said with the crowd still cheering "because if not, I'll be glad to lend you my copy."

It was brilliant theater which left not a dry eye in the house. Unfortunately for Mrs. Clinton who would speak later that night, she couldn't match the intensity or emotion of that moment. On the other hand, I don't think anyone possibly could have.

Mr. Khan's six minutes were the highlight of the convention, if not the entire election.


Donald Trump had a few choice reactions to Khizr Khan's address to the DNC, especially his claim that he, Trump sacrificed nothing for this country. Trump claimed that he did indeed sacrifice by becoming very successful and creating thousands of jobs. He then went on to lambast Captain Khan's hijab clad mother who stood by her husband's side at the convention but didn't speak. Trump postulated that her religion prevented her from speaking her mind.

It turns out Ghazala Khan can speak her mind thank you very much. Since Trump's asinine remarks, she has given interviews and written an op ed piece for the Washington Post. You can read that here.

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