Heading out of Philadelphia last Friday after the conclusion of the Democratic National Convention, I caught a ride with a cabbie named Aziz. When he learned I had been covering the convention, he was eager to talk.
An immigrant from Tunisia, Aziz told me about his 35 years in the United States. He proudly mentioned his eldest son, a field organizer for the Democratic Party, who got his start in politics in 2008 at the age of 15 campaigning for Barack Obama. His younger son is now a party volunteer who drives voters to the polls.
"I am an American," Aziz said. "I love this country."
But he sure does not like the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. Aziz said Trump reminds him of a certain notorious and now-deceased North African politician, Libyan strongman Moammar Kadafi. In Trump, he sees the same pompous arrogance and delight in belittling insults.
With his vague scheme to block the inflow of Muslim refugees, Trump has not endeared himself to Muslim Americans like Aziz, and in the last few days, his standing has not improved. Trump has been swamped by a stream of criticism since he sent out a series of obnoxious tweets in response to a Democratic convention speech delivered by a Pakistani emigré, Khizr Khan. Khan's son, a U.S. Army captain, was awarded the Bronze Star for sacrificing himself to save the lives of the men under his command in Iraq.
Khan criticized Trump for his disparaging comments about Muslim immigrants and refugees. "Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America," Khan said. "You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
Khan's words provoked Trump — no surprise there. It seemed to especially bother the reality-star-turned-politician that Khan said Trump had never sacrificed for his country.
"I think I've made a lot of sacrifices," Trump said in an ABC-TV interview. "I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. I've had tremendous success. I think I've done a lot."
Trump was quickly lampooned for suggesting that working hard to make himself richer is any kind of sacrifice. Twitter users busied themselves making up lists of things Trump might have sacrificed in his life, including once playing on a municipal golf course, settling for 18 karat gold bathroom faucets because the 24 karat ones were out of stock or dealing with the bad aftertaste of having a silver spoon in his mouth when he was born. There have been people sacrificed on the altar of the Trump name, of course, but those were the workers, customers, subsidiary suppliers and contractors whom Trump has cheated and conned over the years.
Trump questioned why Capt. Khan's mother stood in silence while his father spoke on the convention stage. The implication was that she was a muzzled Muslim woman. That did not go over well with very many people, including Khan's wife, Ghazala. In a Washington Post commentary, she spoke directly to Trump, explaining that she chose to be silent "because without saying a thing, all the world, all America, felt my pain. I am a Gold Star mother. Whoever saw me felt me in their heart."
Trump's derision of a slain soldier's mother caused a rush among Republicans to put some distance between themselves and Trump. Ohio Gov. John Kasich tweeted, "There's only one way to talk about Gold Star parents: with honor and respect." Former Florida governor and Trump foe Jeb Bush characterized Trump's comments as "incredibly disrespectful of a family that endured the ultimate sacrifice for our country." After reiterating his opposition to Trump's Muslim immigration ban, Speaker of the House Paul D. Ryan said, "Many Muslim Americans have served valiantly in our military, and made the ultimate sacrifice. Capt. Khan was one such brave example. His sacrifice — and that of Khizr and Ghazala Khan — should always be honored. Period."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham chimed in with criticisms, too. On Monday, when the Trump campaign asked for senators and members of Congress to rise to the defense of the GOP standard-bearer, only Trump fan Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama volunteered for the distasteful job.
"I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention," poor Donald said in one tweet. "Am I not allowed to respond?"
Of course he is allowed. In fact, he can't be stopped, anymore than Kadafi could have resisted a new flamboyant costume for his wardrobe. And that may be Trump's biggest weakness. There are times when it is smarter to stay silent than to spout off, but that is a lesson the Republican nominee will never learn.