When Senator Joseph McCarthy implied on nationwide television that a young Boston lawyer was a communist, Army Counsel Joseph Welch stood up for his colleague and famously rebuked the Wisconsin senator:
“Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness….Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Welch’s famous interchange with McCarthy, when an honorable man stood up to a bully, is seen as a moment when the country started to turn against McCarthy’s witch hunt.
Perhaps a later generation will look back at Khizr Khan and see a similar turning point.
For it is Khan, the humble soft-spoken Muslim immigrant father whose son was killed in Iraq heroically running toward a suicide car bomber and thus saving the lives of his fellow soldiers, who has landed some of the most telling blows against Trump.
“Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Khan challenged Trump from the stage at the Democratic National Convention. “Look for the words liberty and equal protection under the law.”
It is the calm and reasonable Khan, the grieving father, who speaks of the need for candidates to have a “moral compass” and “empathy,” and challenged Republican party leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to disavow Trump.
The New York tycoon is “incapable of empathy,” Khan said sorrowfully, asking that Trump’s family counsel him: “he will be a better person,” if he gets help.
Trump is a “black soul” who is “totally unfit for the leadership of this beautiful country.”
Donald Trump’s furious and unremitting attacks on the Khan family in response to the DNC speech may display a callousness too far.
Trump challenged Humayun Khan’s mother Ghazala to talk, which she did, tearfully, on television shows, telling of her son’s last phone call to her, on Mother’s Day 2004.
Ghazala Khan wrote in the Washington Post: “Donald Trump said I had nothing to say. I do. My son Humayun Khan, an Army captain, died 12 years ago in Iraq. He loved America, where we moved when he was 2 years old….Donald Trump has children whom he loves. Does he really need to wonder why I did not speak?”
Trump, whose series of draft deferments ensured that he did not see service in Vietnam, has a different idea of service and of sacrifice. “I think I have made a lot of sacrifices,” Trump told talk show host George Stephanopoulos.
“I’ve worked very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures … I’ve had tremendous success.” When Stephanopoulos asked whether Trump really meant that these were sacrifices, Trump replied: “Oh, sure. I think they’re sacrifices.”
When Trump was asked what he would say to Khizr Khan, Trump responded, “I’d say ‘We’ve had a lot of problems with radical Islamic terrorism.’”
To which Joseph Welch might have responded: “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Perhaps not. Trump counted Roy Cohn, who was Joseph McCarthy’s chief counsel and Welch’s sparring partner in the hearings, as a close friend. History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme sometimes.
It has taken a Muslim immigrant couple, soft-spoken Gold Star parents, to ensure that Americans we hear a gentler counterpoint to Trump’s angry rhythms.