The nature of sacrifice and Donald Trump
Of all the missteps that Donald Trump has made recently, responding to the Khan family’s criticism of him may be the one that actually sticks. And it’s worth looking at, because it perfectly sums up why the prospect of Trump as president of the United States is a terrifying one.
You almost certainly know the context, but it’s surreal enough to type out again. Khizr and Ghazala Khan are the parents of Humayan Khan, an army captain who died in a suicide bombing in 2004. At the Democratic National Convention, Kizhr criticised Trump, saying he ‘had sacrificed nothing’ and questioning whether he had read the constitution.
Trump responded by questioning why Ghazala hadn’t spoken and suggesting she wasn’t allowed to. He also explained that he had “sacrificed a lot”. Ghazala has since explained that she was too overwhelmed with grief, especially in front of giant pictures of her dead son, to speak.
The obvious question is why Trump has chosen to respond. He had so much more to gain here by shutting up for a little while, rather than turning the Khan family into even more of a story.
With the stances he’s taken on immigration, it’s entirely possible that he feels he has to respond to a Muslim that has the temerity to challenge him publicly, out of fear of looking weak. After all, Trump has a history of racism, refusing to let out his apartments to black people and saying that a judge with a Mexican heritage is unfit to judge him, and that he dislikes black people doing his accounts, preferring Jews.
And to an extent, considering who he is trying to appeal to, that concern would be right. Allowing a Muslim to go unanswered when challenging him publicly on what it is to be American probably would make Trump look bad to some of his base, considering how much he’s tried to make Muslims the enemy.
But realistically, it’s more likely he’s responded because of his thin skin and obsessive need to win anything that seems like a competition. And that’s particularly important here because of the context involved — the nature of sacrifice.
When asked about sacrifice, Trump replied that he’d “sacrificed a lot”. Not that he’d sacrificed at all. That he’d sacrificed a lot. He then talked about how hard he’d worked, how many jobs he’d created and the success he’d had.
Considering how monstrous the concept of parents burying their child is, to respond that you’ve sacrificed a lot suggests you’ve missed the point.
Trump has form here. He has a lot of opinions about veterans, despite dodging the draft through student exemptions and then through a sudden medical exemption following on from being cleared medically (with something severe enough that it wasn’t mentioned during his famously crawling medical report). Although, to be fair to him, he did sleep with a lot of people in the 80s, which he described as his “personal Vietnam”.
Let’s not forget his line about John McCain, who was captured and tortured during the same war Trump avoided. “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, okay?” Of course, it’s also worth questioning, with regards to the Khans, whether he also prefers people that weren’t blown up by suicide bombers.
By directly comparing his life of privilege to the Khans, equating the sacrifices he’s made in business to the grief parents experience when burying their child, Trump makes clear that he doesn’t understand the nature of sacrifice.
If he becomes president, Donald Trump will be the commander-in-chief of the US army. He’ll be responsible for making decisions that involve the lives of thousands of soldiers like Humayan Khan. That involve the safety of thousands of soldiers like John McCain.
This is a job that, more than almost any other, requires a deep understanding of the nature of human sacrifice. And if Donald Trump understands nothing about sacrifice, he has no ability to be commander-in-chief.