Donald Trump and Khizr Khan
We've all read about his repugnant comments -- insinuating that Khan did not write his own speech, that Ghazala Khan stayed silent out of Islamic deference (she has already replied, devastatingly), utter disregard for the parents' pain at their loss and for their son's courage. It's not difficult to imagine how a decent person, or even a cynical but intelligent self-interested politician, could have responded:
He could have said along the lines of "I would think every American should be proud your son saved lives in sacrifice of his own." Given Trump's political stance, he could have easily gone with "I understand you're upset about my wanting to block Muslims from coming to America as immigrants, but I'm looking at a bigger picture of stopping terrorists who come from radical Islamic regions and I'd like to think we can all work towards something that would be reasonable and fair." THAT would have fit exactly into Trump's messaging and he could have trudged on as uncaring as before.
But of course it's just not in Trump's nature to behave that way. Indeed, it's "Trump's nature" that is being cast into sharper and uglier relief than ever. TPM's Josh Marshall has, I think, an excellent assessment of the man. "There are smart terrible people and dumb terrible people", and Trump is clearly one of the latter. Even a heartless narcissist, if he has brains, can learn out of self-interest to fake the empathy he does not feel. Trump doesn't have the brains to do so or even to understand that it would benefit him to do so.
Now he's created another embarrassing crisis for his party, as the two most powerful Republican officials in the country have felt compelled to speak up for the Khan family (though they failed to repudiate their endorsements of him personally), while the VFW -- an institution normally respected by conservatives, surely -- has condemned him. The deranged wingnut element which has come to predominate on the right, on the other hand, has begun barraging the Khans with absurd smears, which echo around inside the wingnut alternate-reality bubble to the point that, incredibly, rank-and-file Trumpanzees actually believe their man is winning this argument. (Well, there are others who share his disdain for the Khans.)
This is not the first episode of Trump's tone-deaf outrageous remarks blowing up in his own campaign's face, and it won't be the last, but it will likely be among the most damaging.
But the significance of Khan's speech may even extend beyond this election. I'm convinced that a big part of the reason why society has become so much more accepting of gays is that fact that, with more and more having come "out of the closet", far more people now know at least one or two gay people personally, which makes it much harder to demonize the whole group as faceless, alien bogeymen. Khizr Khan, by appearing before a vast TV and internet audience as a Muslim that mainstream Americans can like, respect, and sympathize with, has taken a step towards doing the same for Muslims generally -- toward making it impossible to demonize all Muslims as being like the murderous fanatics of Dâ'ish and al-Qâ'idah. The wingnuts may soon be losing another bogeyman -- and a movement based on cultivating paranoia and hysteria cannot survive without its bogeymen.