What Donald Trump should say to the Khans, but won’t

REUTERS/Gary Cameron
Khizr Khan speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, with his wife, Ghazala, at his side.

Pretty obviously, this is what Donald Trump should do about the Khans. He should send them a private note, roughly as follows:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Khan,

First, please accept my sincere apology for anything said by me or anyone in my campaign that was insulting or hurtful to you.

Second, please allow me to retract my ill-considered remarks about the sacrifices I have made in my life, especially if they came across as comparing any piddling sacrifice I might have made to what you have been through with the loss of your dear and heroic son. You and your family have made the ultimate sacrifice and suffered a loss so painful I can only try to imagine it and admit my good fortune that I have never had to experience it.

Lastly, given the remarks that you have made about me, I won’t trouble you with a request for your support in the coming election. I will ask that you please accept my condolences on your loss and try not to think too ill of me for my previous comments, which I deeply regret.


Donald Trump

It’s so obvious that he should express such sentiments, not only out of common decency but to put the matter to rest.

I predict, with some confidence, that he will not do so. I’m not sure whether he has retracted or apologized for any of the offensive things he has said and done during his campaign. Notwithstanding his many great and stupendous qualities, humility and empathy do not seem to be among them.

He doesn’t seem capable of apologizing. I suppose it might even be politically risky for him to do the obvious right thing in this instance.

In ways that I still struggle to grasp, his political rise seems to owe much to the feeling of his supporters that the situation in the nation is so dire that it can be fixed only by an angry a—hole who puts the need for strength ahead of all other attributes — and here, by “strength,” I refer not to strength of character or leadership or wisdom but strength of anger, backed not much by real toughness (what has he ever done that required real toughness) but by more anger.

It seems I spend a little time each day trying to grasp how this combination of qualities has gotten him this close to the presidency, and I’ve made some progress, but I’m definitely not all the way there.

I’m a big fan of the corny old Frank Capra film classics, like “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” or “Meet John Doe.” A lot of them, including those two, were very political. The villain (played by Edward Arnold in both of those I just mentioned) uses money and mass propaganda power to subvert the workings of democracy on his own behalf, but just before the final disaster, the hero (Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith,” Gary Cooper in “John Doe”) breaks through at the last minute and connects with the basic common sense and decency of the average American. The endings were corny enough that they were called “Capra-corn.”

I keep waiting for the Capra moment in our current drama. Khizr and Ghazala Khan don’t look or sound much like Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur but I got a little bit of a Capra lump in my throat watching them Monday night on my beloved PBS “NewsHour” when Mr. Khan described why he was doing this and why he considers Trump unfit to lead this nation. If my shorthand is correct, he said:

“We are in the political process of the greatest democracy on the Planet Earth. He [Trump] is candidate for the highest office of this nation. He must have the patience and tolerance for criticism. Him and I, we have same equal rights. He thinks that he can criticize people but no one else can criticize him. That isn’t the value of this country.”

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Comments (13)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/03/2016 - 09:18 am.

    Read your Mencken

    If Trump did what he ‘should’ do (in other words, behaved with common decency) he wouldn’t be Trump.
    His standard substitute for apologizing is to insult someone and then change the subject when he is asked to justify his behavior.

  2. Submitted by Roy Everson on 08/03/2016 - 09:43 am.

    p.s. one more thing

    And Mr. and Mrs. Kahn, you have taught me a valuable lesson that millions of my fellow Americans have tried to teach me for over a year. That I am a total fraud, jerk and unworthy of the office I have been pursuing. Therefore I have notified the Republican National Committee to withdraw my name from the ballot and find some other loser, I mean statesman, to take my place.



  3. Submitted by Pat Berg on 08/03/2016 - 09:43 am.

    What upsets me most about the entire Trump situation isn’t even what he does or what he says (although I find all of those upsetting).

    What upsets me most about the entire Trump situation is that there is a sizable enough part of our American population that finds him acceptable that they have voted him into the position he currently enjoys.

    I only hope that my faith in my fellow Americans as a whole will be restored by his resounding defeat in the November general election.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/03/2016 - 10:49 am.

      Composite of current polls show Trump at 40%, as was the case prior to the conventions. If this is the steady-state condition, this means that in his defeat a significant portion of his believers will hold the the belief (Trump’s statement) that the election was “rigged”. That belief, if sustained, is going to be as damaging as the Republican obstructionism has been with respect to the core support for democratic (small “d”) institutions.

      And this is how the path to despotism is trod. In winning, and in losing, it all serves to demonstrate that democracy is not adequate to support the correct ideas of right-wing demagogues.

      Within the next few rounds of this sort of damage, a group of “right-thinking patriots” will take matters into their own hands and re-create America to be what they think it should be.

  4. Submitted by Doug Gray on 08/03/2016 - 09:49 am.

    ipse dixit

    “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it. Good and hard.”

  5. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 08/03/2016 - 11:13 am.


    The severity of recent Clinton Derangement Syndrome cases is flaring. Given the choice between the known quantity of Clintonism Term 3 (and 4?) and an absolute wild card of unknown proportions, we still have folks who choose to roll the dice on Trump over a predictable, middle of the road administration that produced favorable economic, domestic and foreign results during terms 1 & 2. Anyone who can comprehend the latest Trumpian acts and still offer their vote to him should get to a CDS clinic for a vaccination immediately.

    • Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/03/2016 - 01:57 pm.

      “Absolute wild card of unknown proportions”

      The idea of voting for Trump for the sake of change, or “shaking up the establishment,” is pretty much the same as thinking it would be a good idea to start shooting heroin or chugging Wild Turkey every night because there’s nothing good on TV.

  6. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 08/03/2016 - 12:04 pm.

    Trump will only make it worse

    There is nothing Trump can say to apologize to Mr. and Mrs. Khan. The minute he opens his trap he will just make it worse. I feel very badly about the abuse the Khan’s have endured. I’m amazed at the courage they display by putting their country before themselves. I believe the poster boy for narcissism doesn’t actually want to be the president. He was getting the attention he so badly needs for a while, but each day the scrutiny of him gets more pointed and harder for him to deal with because of his thin skin, a symptom of narcissism. Vindictiveness is another Trump characteristic. You can see it in his refusal to endorse Ryan by using the same words Ryan used when Ryan wouldn’t endorse Trump, “I’m not there yet”. Personally I believe Trump is in bad need of medical attention, but he is not likely to relent and seek the help he needs. Maybe if they can convince him he will get “attention” he might take the bait.

    Even without Trump the GOP is a long way away from being a healthy, viable party. The democrats have their problems too, but they pale in comparison to the GOP problems.

  7. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/03/2016 - 12:30 pm.

    Now it’s the voters’ fault

    Now it’s us: Too many Americans who know that Trump creates acid stomach for them are still going to vote for him. No matter what it may mean for the country or for the world. That’s our failing, collectively. Beginning with all those high-level Republican elected officials who won’t renounce him despite being appalled by what he says and does.

    Surely there’s an educated and thoughtful electorate in this country who can outvote the angry bigots who support Trump.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 08/03/2016 - 12:59 pm.

      Agree and Disagree

      First, I agree with Eric on this one.

      Second, I will never understand the MP moderation policy. I know committed Trump Voters and they are not angry bigots. Such name calling adjectives… 🙂

      Third, most of the Trump voters I have met are like the Bernie voters. They feel strongly that the political system has failed the country and they want to see the whole thing shook up.

      And though I really dislike their champion… I certainly agree with them. In almost every other aspect of our lives we get more for less as technology takes hold. However the cost of government as a percent of our economy just keeps going up.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 08/03/2016 - 01:07 pm.

      Stomach Acid

      Slight correction: “Too many Americans who know that Trump creates acid stomach for other Americans . . .” A big part of Trump’s appeal to his partisans is that he gets under the skin of “them.” He infuriates feminists, people of color, non-Christians, environmentalists, etc. Trump voters don’t care about policy, they just want to start and watch a fight.

      “Surely there’s an educated and thoughtful electorate in this country who can outvote the angry bigots who support Trump.” I certainly hope so.

  8. Submitted by Bill Willy on 08/03/2016 - 02:59 pm.

    Where are the psychiatrists?

    I’ve been asking myself that question for the past few months (or years) and, I’m glad to report, a few of them are (finally) showing up. There have been a few pretty good “psychological profile” articles that have popped up lately and this one . . .

    “The Mind of Donald Trump

    “Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency”


    . . . on the Atlantic site, is a long(form), but thorough and interesting, calm piece that does a good job of explaining the most likely internal Trump scenario.

    In addition to it being obvious (to millions) that Trump is way too crazy to run the country, the equally big and mysterious question is, why do so many people support him? As a fortunate bonus (for me and my curiosity), the article goes into that too:

    “During and after World War II, psychologists conceived of the authoritarian personality as a pattern of attitudes and values revolving around adherence to society’s traditional norms, submission to authorities who personify or reinforce those norms, and antipathy—to the point of hatred and aggression—toward those who either challenge in-group norms or lie outside their orbit. Among white Americans, high scores on measures of authoritarianism today tend to be associated with prejudice against a wide range of ‘out-groups,’ including homosexuals, African Americans, immigrants, and Muslims. Authoritarianism is also associated with suspiciousness of the humanities and the arts, and with cognitive rigidity, militaristic sentiments, and Christian fundamentalism.”

    The article goes into more depth on that and, interestingly enough, points out how it’s as old as America and makes a person wonder if Donald Trump could be the near-reincarnation of Andrew Jackson.

    Overall, my favorite paragraph in the article — or the one that inspired the most hope that things will turn out alright — says:

    “In the ancient Greek legend, the beautiful boy Narcissus falls so completely in love with the reflection of himself in a pool that he plunges into the water and drowns.”

    In the horse race department, there’s some interesting stuff on the 538 site that, for now anyway, reinforces that, “It’s gonna be alright,” feeling. They track things in three ways: Their “Polls-plus”; “Polls only”; and “Now-cast” forecasts.

    They explain that the “Now-cast” is an interesting poll, but too volatile to bet the farm on: It crunches immediate data from all over the place and spits out the “right now” picture. But, they say, it should be taken with a grain of salt because things can swing wildly day-to-day and polls “settle” over time.

    Just after the RNC that poll showed Trump with a 10-point lead over Clinton (55% to 45%). Today it’s a different picture: It says Clinton’s chances of winning are 85% and Trump’s are 15%.


    Polls-plus: Clinton 66.5%; Trump 33.5%

    Polls-only: Clinton 68.4%; Trump 31.6%

    There’s also an interesting, Khans-related, video/transcript there of “A FiveThirtyEight Chat” on the question of “Is Donald Trump Blowing It?”


    • Submitted by chuck holtman on 08/03/2016 - 05:08 pm.

      Alas, I fear your “It’s gonna be alright” feeling is misplaced

      The problem is not Trump, but the 30-40% of the citizenry that support him. Though Mr Black “struggles to grasp” how these folks have come to be, it is quite clear: The electoral strategy of the Republican party for the past 50 years has been to cultivate the authoritarian personality within as much of the body politic as has been susceptible to it.

      Except actuarially, these people aren’t going to disappear. On Day One after Trump’s electoral loss, the Republican party, abetted as always by the establishment media, will forget any notion of introspection or mea culpa and return to stoking the fires. With Ms Clinton in office, the task will be easy as never before, due to her actual establishment/elite/hawkish politics and the grand swirl of Clinton Derangement Syndrome conspiracy and scandal. By 2020, the Republican party will be prepared with a more electable authoritarian (e.g., Mr Cruz) and the Trump demographic will be even more stoked on fear and anger and ready to see others suffer.

      Doesn’t seem to me that universal enlightenment is the obvious next step in the nation’s journey.

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