The raging controversy over Donald Trump’s candidacy has become a proxy for a larger debate about the definition of America.
After Donald responded to Khizr and Ghazala Khan’s appearance at the Democratic convention by implying that Ghazala was not allowed to speak, she wrote a beautiful piece for the Washington Post: “Donald Trump has asked why I did not speak at the Democratic convention. He said he would like to hear from me. Here is my answer to Donald Trump: 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.”
Except, of course, for Donald. Who only saw an opportunity to attack grieving Muslim parents who were petitioning him for compassion and decency.
And then he doubled-down, as does he always, with a tweet:
He claims to have been “viciously attacked,” without a trace of irony, by citizens of this country who merely criticized his Islamophobic policies. They have been viciously attacked. By him.
And not just by him: The Khans, like Muslims all over this country, have been repeatedly attacked by Islamophobic non-Muslims, both rhetorically and literally. Hate crimes against Muslims spike dramatically after any violent act committed by a Muslim, as all Muslims are blamed by bigots for the actions of one individual, with no regard for whether those Muslims are among, as examples, the countless Muslim healthcare providers across this country, the owners of a beloved neighborhood business, or the parents of a service member who died for this country.
This nation, as a collective, is not always a friendly place (to put it politely) to its Muslim countrypersons.
As I was thinking about this lamentable reality, and sitting inside the thought of what it means that the Khans, despite this reality, raised a son who was willing to die for this country, and took to the stage at the Democratic convention to declare their deep patriotism, I began to consider the company they were in, in that space.
They were in the company of the Mothers of the Movement – Black women who have lost children to gun violence and police brutality. Whose grief and desperation for accountability was ignored, they say, by virtually everyone in power except Hillary. Whose lives, like all Black women, have been marked, every day, by entrenched racism and misogyny.
They were in the company of Anastasia Somoza – a disabled woman whose life has been a fight for access, whose work is advocating for access for disabled people across the country. Whose life, like all disabled women, has been marked, every day, by entrenched disablism and misogyny.
They were in the company of Sarah McBride – a trans women who made history by being the first out trans person to speak at a national party convention. Whose life, like all trans women, has been marked, every day, by entrenched transphobia and misogyny.
They were in the company of Rev. William Barber – a Black man who founded North Carolina’s Moral Monday movement to help amplify the voices of people who are marginalized, and their allies. Whose life, like all Black men, has been marked, every day, by entrenched racism.
They were in the company of Hillary Clinton – a woman whose journey to the precipice of the U.S. presidency has been littered with obstacles, and whose life has been marked, every day, by entrenched misogyny. Who has been told so many times that she isn’t good enough, but just keeps showing up anyway. Who continues to petition for an opportunity to serve a country that is filled with people who hate her.
That, too, is the story of the Democratic convention. Not just its diversity, and not just its optimism, but the numbers of people who took to the stage on behalf of a hopeful, aspirational, audacious vision for the future of a country that is often not very kind to them.
People who have, truly, been viciously attacked.
People whose communities have been neglected and scapegoated and exploited and over-policed. People whose families have been torn apart by violence and failed policy. People whose identities have been used to marginalize them. People whose lives and voices have been ignored. People who have been targeted by hate crimes and home-grown terrorists. People who have been obliged by systemic oppression to survive every day.
They showed up. They showed up to say, “This is our country, too. We are not other. We are America.”
Donald has never, ever, in his entire wealthy, white, straight, cis male life, been made to feel that he is anything other than America. Until now.
Until he has had to face the inescapable evidence at the Democratic convention that America is diversity. America is optimism. America is people who are, regrettably, obliged to survive actual attacks, rhetorical or literal, and who survive with dignity, with productive anger, with resolve.
Who know that the only cure for the acrid taste oppression leaves in our mouths is to speak; to let forth a clarion call rejecting Donald Trump as an emblem of America, and to see all of us as America instead.