You know how tennis players will set up a shot that puts an opponent away? You force your opponent to make a difficult return from one corner, then slam the ball into the opposite corner. The Democrats love to do that with Donald Trump. They bait him in public, then stand by while reporters nag him to take the bait. When he does, the Democrats say, “See, this man lacks the temperament and basic human decency to be president.”
They’re going to a lot of extra trouble. Anyone who does not already support Trump can see the man has an ego that deleteriously affects the way he practices politics. His supporters see it, too, but they certainly won’t change their vote because Democrats tell them they should. Nevertheless, Democrats apparently like their bear-baiting strategy. It doesn’t require much skill, and it feels safe. Someone in the Democratic camp decided they’d like to create doubts about Trump with regular flaps about the way he behaves and the things he says.
For leadership, Democrats give us their latest marketing phrase, Stronger Together. You can’t even tell whether “Together” refers to the Democratic party, or to the country. Either way, you know from the outset that the Democrats have no plans to unify us, in an atmosphere so partisan that people don’t even try to disguise their hate or distaste for each other any more. In those circumstances, you have to ask exactly whose strength we’re talking about. The campaign’s ethos is so transparently self-serving, you can’t believe its marketing people would think a slogan like that can persuade anyone outside their party.
Hillary’s cynical side shows when she invites parents who lost their son in Iraq to speak at her convention. Why would she do that, after she voted to send their son to fight a war that was plainly illegal? Of course, Clinton does not think the war was illegal, but she had no justification in law, in national interest, or in morality to send any person to fight in a place we had no business being. Every justification for going to war in Iraq – at the time – was clearly a lie, a distortion, an appeal to misplaced national interest, or, of course, an effort to play on fear of another attack after 9/11.
Now she says she made a mistake. In light of that, she may say her invitation to the Khans was not so cynical. Moreover, Khizr Khan, Captain Humayun Khan’s father, did not have to accept the DNC’s invitation to speak at the Democratic convention. He knew he would mount a surrogate attack on Trump, to support Clinton’s brief against her Republican opponent. He knows the practice of party politics in our country. Clinton’s campaign people wanted focus on the message, “Muslims have sacrificed for our country, too,” but they also wanted to get at Trump in a vulnerable spot: his attitude toward Muslims. Everyone knew why Mr. Khan stood at the podium on the last night of the convention.
In today’s environment, Mr. Khan’s speech focuses attention on Trump, and naturally distracts from the prior question, “Why was Humayun Khan in Iraq in the first place? Why did Hillary Clinton and hundreds of other addled officials in Congress and the Executive Branch order him to fight a war to unseat Saddam Hussein?”
If Trump wants to respond humanely to the Clinton campaign’s brazen use of a family’s grief to advance its own interests, he might praise the Khans for their son’s courage, and for their own fortitude. He might express personal appreciation to the Khans for their patriotism and commitment. Nothing they did showed anything but valor. Then he should train his sights on the people who prepared the way for Humayun Khan’s death: conceited imperialists who thought, after 9/11, “We’ll show everyone we can still act, that you don’t mess with us. We’ll also turn a troublesome country into a client state. Lastly, we’ll make the American people think we’re protecting them, now that we’ve made them so scared.”
If Trump is feeling especially talkative, and he always is, he could highlight Clinton’s extra dollop of cynicism in October 2002, when she cast her fateful Senate vote to grant Bush war powers. You can easily speculate about her private calculations: “If I want to run for higher office after I leave the Senate – that means the White House – I better not vote with the minority on this one. I might tell my colleagues this a difficult vote, but in fact voting with the majority is the easy choice. Figuring out a reasonable justification for this vote – that’s hard.”
Of course, Trump is not in a powerful position to criticize Democrats when they raise the immediate issue in the campaign, which is whether the United States ought to place unconstitutional restrictions on Muslims’ freedom of movement. Trump may as well say he doesn’t want to let anyone into the country. Then Democrats can’t charge him with discrimination, and Trump could claim his anti-terrorist proposals are both consistent and fair.
As it is, Trump targets Muslims – even Muslim citizens – with laws that would restrict their ability to enter or leave the country. These proposals so clearly violate the First Amendment, you have to ask why someone like Trump would run for an office that requires an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. Well of course you would run. When you know what’s best for the country, why would an oath like that place any obligations on you at all?
Cynical is as cynical does. If you want to get inside the mind of a Clinton or a Trump – or for that matter dozens of party hacks who seem to swarm around Washington these days – use self-interest as your guide. Do not rely on what they say. Do not try to make a connection between what they say and what they do. Least of all, do not let them mislead you with high-minded claims about how they only act to protect the nation’s interest. Do you really think they want what’s best for us, or what’s best for themselves? The appalling blindness of Hillary Clinton’s vote on Iraq should tell you the answer to that question. Trump’s willingness to abrogate the First Amendment lends more credence, if you need it.
Clinton’s willingness to pull the Khans into the maelstrom of arguments about patriotism and sacrifice that inevitably follow a disastrous war makes you wonder what she won’t do. Here’s something a person with integrity would never do: send someone’s son off to an illegal war, then persuade the soldier’s parents to make a public statement that can only embroil them in Democrats’ current version of an aggressive presidential campaign: a campaign that aims to discredit an opposition candidate who strikes many as deranged.
Meantime, remember that we’re stronger together.