Driving through rural Western Pennsylvania this week, I twice found myself behind cars with Donald Trump bumper stickers. It was a bit of surprise; I know he has many full-throated supporters, but having lived in Canada throughout the current electoral cycle, I've never met one. I know people who mistrust Hillary Clinton enough to vote for Trump, but no one who would actually sport a Trump logo.
Seeing the bumper stickers catalyzed the following thought: Donald Trump is not the first leader of angry people, who view themselves as disenfranchised; look at some of the figures who claimed to speak for the American civil rights movement - Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. And permit me to oversimplify the leaders of such people into two types: 1) Those who rabble-rouse, catering to their feelings of victimization, and 2) Those who lead, inspiring their followers to something better than selfishness and hatred.
To my mind, the followers of Trump have legitimate concerns: Finances. Terrorism. Basic Freedoms. But so do the people on the other side of these debates. The question is whether Trump will demonize everyone on that other side, or whether he will lay out the challenging questions which face society, and make a reasoned argument for his solution.
Khizr Khan's speech was a perfect opportunity to do the latter. Here's what Donald Trump could have said to Khizr Khan:
I am sorry for your loss, and grateful beyond words for your sacrifice. I would never want to deny you, and the many others like you, anything of what America has to offer. Under the Constitution we both uphold, Muslims are entitled to the same protections and opportunities as Jews, Christians, atheists, and so on.
But here is my problem: The same people who killed your son are trying to kill the sons and daughters of everyone living in America - all genders, all races, are vulnerable to them here. I want to stop them, but it's very hard. The best way I have come up with to do that is to identify them by their proclaimed beliefs.
My system is not a good system, and the broad net it casts will include people who are honest, hard-working, good people, like you. But let me ask you: what alternative would you suggest? Because look at the headlines around the world - the current system of combating terrorism in the name of Islam isn't working.
If Trump were a thoughtful and empathetic human being, that's what he could have said, and it could have led to a meaningful conversation. Too bad that's not the case.