Almost no one believes that Donald Trump acted wisely in attacking Khizr and Ghazala Khan, who denounced the Republican nominee at the Democratic National Convention. The couple’s Muslim American son died fighting for the U.S. in Iraq. Almost any other American would’ve understood that it would be morally wrong and politically inept to lash out at them. Yet Trump, with his compulsion to “hit back” at critics, managed to keep their speech in the headlines for days, to trigger a dressing down by the VFW, to anger a lot of military families, and to alienate a lot of voters.
Fellow Republicans chided him. Rumors circulated about “an intervention” by his staffers. Even his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, publicly called his actions “not smart.”
So imagine my surprise when Ben Carson, the retired-neurosurgeon-turned-politician who endorsed Trump and appears on TV as one of his surrogates, asserted on CNN and again on Fox News that while Trump shouldn’t have behaved as he did toward the Khan family, the grieving husband and wife should apologize to Trump, too. “I don’t think that it would be harmful if they apologized to him and he apologized to them,” Carson told Wolf Blitzer, “but I don’t see that happening.”
“Why should they apologize to him?” the anchor asked.
“Well, for one thing,” Carson answered, “if you accuse someone of something that’s not true, it usually is a reasonable thing to acknowledge that.” He didn’t specify the alleged falsehood on CNN. But his meaning emerged later in the Fox interview:
Megyn Kelly pointed out that in a new Fox News poll—Trump having managed to induce pollsters to call likely voters and describe how he insulted grieving parents to gauge their reaction—an impressive 69 percent of respondents called Trump’s comments “out of bounds,” while only 19 percent felt that they were “in bounds.”
Carson’s reply started out reasonably enough. There’s no question that the family is distraught, and that they made a supreme sacrifice for the United States, he declared, adding that “when they speak you should just give them a pass and move on, and I think that pretty much everybody would agree that should be the case.”
Except, as Megyn Kelly pointed out, Trump obviously didn’t agree.
“If you asked Donald now, he would tell you that too,” Carson said. (I have my doubts!)
“Because he suffered the political fallout,” Kelly said, “but most people would do it out of a sense of decency that drove their behavior in the first place, not out of political expediency.” (Did I mention how dumb Trump was to pick a fight with Megyn Kelly?) Then she asked why Carson told CNN that the Khans should apologize.
“Well, because they said things that are false,” Carson said.
“What,” Kelly asked, “did they say that was false?”
“That he had never read the Constitution,” Carson said. “Where did they get that from? That’s unreasonable.”
Let’s pause there. What Khizr Kahn said, after criticizing Trump’s unconstitutional proposals, was, “Let me ask you: Have you even read the United States Constitution?” Carson is implying that Khan is a liar over a rhetorical question! Carson is the one being unreasonable here. Exasperated, Kelly pressed him.
“I know you as an empathetic man, a kind man,” she said. “Do you really believe that this Gold Star family should apologize to Donald Trump? This family that has sacrificed their son to protect this nation, that was viciously attacked by the presidential nominee, that they owe him an apology? I just want to make sure you really believe that.”
In other circumstances, almost anyone in America’s red tribe would say, “Of course the grieving parents of a fallen soldier don’t owe the politician an apology.”
Try to listen to what I'm saying. We as a society have gotten ourselves into this tug-of-war where we get into our separate corners and we try to demonize each other. The way that they come out of that is they come together, they shake hands, they exchange pleasantries and apologies, and say, you know, we have better issues to deal with. They’re both on the same side. They’re fighting radical Islamic terrorists.
They lost a son doing that.
Donald wants to fight that as well. They need to recognize that this is not something we need to be pitting ourselves against each other, because it only weakens us and it’s only easier for our enemies to conquer us.
It’s hard to watch the interview without thinking less of Ben Carson than before. To spin for Donald Trump—one of the most prolific practitioners of demonization in the United States—Carson doesn’t just forswear the position he would hold in other circumstances, blatantly lie about what the Khans said in their speech, and suggest they owe Trump an apology. He goes on to argue that if they don’t recognize their supposed error, they’ll make it easier for the folks who killed their son to win.
Does Carson have no decency? I’d put it this way: It is often impossible both to behave decently and to go on television to defend Trump, because there is often no decent defense for what he says and does.