U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents

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humayun khan grief of the parents Captain Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan was killed in action in Iraq on June 8, 2004 and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Khan’s father, Khizr, addressed this year’s Democratic National Convention (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson, Wikimedia Commons).

Captain Humayun Saqib Muazzam Khan was killed in action in Iraq on June 8, 2004 and was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Khan’s father, Khizr, addressed this year’s Democratic National Convention (U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Cody W. Torkelson, Wikimedia Commons).

In the first of a series entitled U.S. Election Notebook, Athabasca University professor Paul Kellogg focuses on the late summer crises of Donald Trump’s campaign for president of the United States.

Humayun Khan was a US soldier, one of the thousands who died during George W. Bush’s ill-considered war on Iraq. Khan served with the 1st Infantry Division, until killed in a car bomb explosion in 2004. He “was of Pakistani ancestry … born in the United Arab Emirates and came to the U.S. with his parents when he was 2 years old.” July 28, Humayun’s father, Khizr, accompanied by Humayun’s mother Ghazala, delivered a speech to the Democratic National Convention (DNC), calling Humayun “the best of America”. Peter Certo, echoing the sentiments of thousands, said “it was impossible not to be moved”.

Not surprisingly – given that it was delivered at the DNC – the speech by Khan’s father was a political one. He said, that if it had been left to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Humayun “never would have been in America,” referencing Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Saturday July 30, in an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump responded to Khizr Khan, and for a while, it seemed that his response might cost him the election. To considerable incredulity, he compared the dead soldier’s life to his own, saying Humayun isn’t the only one who has made sacrifices. “I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures”. Stephanopoulos challenged the comparison: “Those are sacrifices?” Trump replied “Oh, sure, those are sacrifices”. He had preceded this exchange with an attack on Khan’s mother. “She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me.” Joy Malbon interpreted this, along with many others, as “suggesting her Muslim faith was the reason she stood silently by her husband.”

To be dismissive of Muslims was not new for Trump, of course. It is a theme which has informed his whole political career. But to so callously dismiss the life (and death) experiences of a U.S. soldier, and to so rudely treat the dead soldier’s parents, outraged not just Trump’s opponents, but many in his own Republican base, a base which honours military service.

Trump’s August of controversy was not yet over. Tuesday August 9, Trump told a rally in Wilmington North Carolina, that his opponent, Democratic Party standard bearer Hillary Clinton “wants to abolish, essentially, the Second Amendment”, that section of the U.S. constitution which protects gun ownership. He went on … “if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know.” Thomas Friedman was among a host of shocked commentators who condemned this speech. “I never in my wildest dreams … thought” that Trump would “in his usual coy, twisted way – suggest that Hillary Clinton was so intent on taking away the Second Amendment right to be bear arms that maybe Second Amendment enthusiasts could do something to stop her. Exactly what? Oh, Trump left that hanging.” Never before in history has the accusation of inciting assassination hung over the head of a candidate for a major party in the United States.

Controversies notwithstanding, Donald Trump stands a chance of becoming the next president of the most powerful country in the world.

In the next post, entitled Memories of Barry Goldwater, Paul Kellogg asks if there is a comparison between the 2016 campaign of Donald Trump, and the 1964 campaign of Barry Goldwater.

U.S. Election Notebook #1: Grief of the Parents
U.S. Election Notebook #2: Memories of Goldwater
U.S. Election Notebook #3: Calculus of ‘misspeaking’
U.S. Election Notebook #4: Birther origins
U.S. Election Notebook #5: Memories of George Wallace
U.S. Election Notebook #6: The Colour Line
U.S. Election Notebook #7: Glass ceilings & backlash
U.S. Election Notebook #8: Slaves in the White House
U.S. Election Notebook #9: Locking up the vote
U.S. Election Notebook #10: The New Jim Crow
U.S. Election Notebook #11: Not a dime’s worth of difference?
U.S. Election Notebook #12: ‘A sort of public and psychological wage’
U.S. Election Notebook #13: Political futures

Paul Kellogg (Ph.D. Queen’s, M.A. York) is an Associate Professor, Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies, Master of Arts – Integrated Studies Program, Athabasca University. He is the author of Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy After Left-Nationalism (University of Toronto Press, 2015). His teaching and research interests are political economy, social movements and global governance.

Certo, Peter, ‘Khan Deserved Better’, The News International (Pakistan, 5 August 2016)
Friedman, Thomas L., ‘Trump’s Ambiguous Wink Wink’, The New York Times, 10 August 2016, p. A19
Hrenchir, Tim, ‘Khan, 27, Served with the Big Red 1’, Topeka Capital-Journal, 5 August 2016, p. A1
Rinaldo, Sandie, and Joy Malbon, ‘Trump Attacks Parents of a US Soldier [Transcript]’, CTV National News – CTV Television (Scarborough, Canada, 31 July 2016) <http://search.proquest.com> [accessed 17 August 2016]
Staufenberg, Jess, ‘Khizr Khan’s DNC 2016 Speech [Transcript]’, Independent, 29 July 2016 <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/dnc-2016-khizr-khan-donald-trump-read-full-transcript-father-muslim-soldier-a7161616.html> [accessed 6 September 2016]
Stephanopoulos, George, and ABC News, ‘Trump To Father Of Fallen Soldier: “I’ve Made A Lot Of Sacrifices” [Transcript]’ <http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2016/07/30/trump_to_father_of_fallen_soldier_ive_made_a_lot_of_sacrifices.html> [accessed 6 September 2016]
Viser, Matt, ‘Raising Rhetoric, Trump Calls for Ban on Muslim Travel to the US: GOP Rivals Condemn Talk as Dangerous, Absurd’, Boston Globe, 7 December 2015, p. A1