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Ruben Navarrette: Have we lost sight of an American hero?

Ruben Navarrette: Have we lost sight of an American hero?

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SAN DIEGO — It’s hard criticizing people you respect, and twice as hard if the criticism might be misinterpreted as defending someone you don’t.

Since I’m “Never Trump,” I’m free of the moral conflict of supporting a nominee who would stoop so low as to insult the parents of a dead soldier.

This sort of thing should disqualify someone from serving as president. But then again, so does calling Mexican immigrants criminals and rapists, mocking the disabled, demeaning women, suggesting that President George W. Bush knew about the attacks of Sept 11, 2001, beforehand, praising Saddam Hussein and Vladmir Putin, and threatening to ban an entire religion from the United States.

Yet because of my line of work, I’m not free to ignore the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable — especially when it’s uncomfortable.

Here’s the truth: There are many good ways for parents to remember and honor a child they’ve lost. But using their anguish as a springboard to enter the political rough and tumble by picking a fight with a party’s nominee isn’t one of them.

When Khizr and Ghazala Khan — the Gold Star parents of Capt. Humayun Khan, an American soldier killed in Iraq — attacked Trump with a stinging personal rebuke at the Democratic National Convention, they did Hillary Clinton a big favor.

Yet, with those remarks and later television appearances, the Khans did nothing to serve the memory of their fallen son.

I’ve interviewed Gold Star parents, and they have a special burden to watch what they say and do so as not to let politics in any way diminish their sacrifice. Some have fallen short, and both political parties have shamelessly exploited their anger.

The Khans are now in a media-fueled tit-for-tat with Trump who — in a startling lack of social skills — suggested that the reason that Ghazala Khan, a grieving mother, kept quiet as her husband spoke was because Islam commands it.

Even Republicans couldn’t stomach such disrespect, and many of them have fired at Trump. Good for them.

But, amid all the insults flying about, haven’t we lost sight of something rather important — like an American hero?

Humayun Khan was the real deal. On June 8, 2004, he lost his life when he ran toward the vehicle of a suicide bomber who was accelerating toward a facility with hundreds of American soldiers.

Where do we find such people? And how did America get so lucky as to have more than her share?

That Humayun Khan died serving his country is a tragedy, but how he died makes for a great story. It’s a tale that I might have expected to hear from his parents when they had the chance to address the nation during the Democratic convention.

But I didn’t hear it from them. Instead, I heard it from subsequent media accounts and from Sen. John McCain’s official statement condemning Trump for his disparagement of “a fallen soldier’s parents” and re-emphasizing — as Clinton did — that Humayun Khan represented “the best of America.”

Maybe the reason I didn’t hear the heroic story of Humayun Khan from his parents is because, of the 300 words in Khizr Khan’s convention speech, almost half — 134 words — were about Trump. Khan started out criticizing the real estate developer for smearing “the character of Muslims,” disrespecting minorities, attacking fellow Republicans, and vowing to build walls and ban Muslims from the United States. He insinuated that Trump had never read the U.S. Constitution, and offered to lend the GOP nominee his copy. He followed that broadside by asking if Trump had been to Arlington National Cemetery and seen the grave sites of patriots who come in “all faiths, genders and ethnicities.”

He then accused Trump of having sacrificed nothing in life, and finally insisted that Americans “can’t solve our problems by building walls and sowing division.”

It was an effective political speech, the kind you expect to hear at a party convention — but not what you should hear from parents of a fallen soldier.

The Khans had the chance to honor their son by telling his story to the country. Instead, they wasted the opportunity by criticizing a self-centered con man and carnival barker with a mean streak who used deferments to skip out on the Vietnam War and isn’t fit to have carried their son’s duffel bag.

It’s just one more tragic element of a tale that was already guaranteed to break your heart.


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"But my heart and my head, and those of many Americans, align in believing that we have to stop identity politics, treasure our American identity and explain to the world that the U.S. isn’t open to all, otherwise all would come," says Llewellyn King, executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.

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