Khizr Khan: America’s 2016 Will Kane
In high school, my tenth grade Social Studies teacher screened the movie High Noon as an object lesson. We knew little about it, other than it was a black and white western made before we were born. The class discussed their reactions to the characters and the plot. Our teacher listened, and then informed us that the movie was far more than just another cowboy story.
He contextualized the movie, discussing the time frame during which the writing and production of the movie took place. He tied in the war in Korea, the House on Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and a man named Joseph McCarthy.
“America lost sight of important truths during this period,” he stated. He outlined how Hollywood became a place where people informed on each other, jobs were lost, and lives were ruined.
He lectured about the dangers of demagoguery. He invoked the names of Hitler and Mussolini as men who preyed upon people’s fears and prejudices. He followed with a primer on homegrown manipulators, false leaders who made claims about having “all the answers.”
In the past months, I have listened to the growing litany of Trump’s hate and bigotry. His flirtation with an American brand of neo-fascism has been frightening. He doesn’t bother to add a side order of apple pie.
It has made me think of my teacher and the narrative of High Noon.
The storyline is simple yet nuanced; bold in its simulation of real time. Gary Cooper plays the lead role of Marshal Will Kane.
Kane, newly married, plans to leave town with his bride. A telegraph arrives with the news that a man he sent to jail for murder was pardoned. The outlaw is coming back on the 12 o’clock train to settle old scores. His gunslinging posse of three is waiting for him at the railroad station.
Kane reaches out to friends and citizens for help. The local judge, former deputy, mayor, minister, and ordinary people refuse to get involved. They want no part of the fight, preferring to keep silent and out of sight.
My teacher quoted Edmund Burke’s words: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Which brings us to Donald Trump and members of the Republican party.
I have waited for Sen. John McCain, who once self-identified as a “maverick,” to push back. Trashed by Trump for not being “a war hero,” McCain continues to maintain his endorsement of Trump for president. McCain’s focus is his own self-interest. He needs to survive a challenge in the Republican August primary in order to defeat a Democratic opponent in November.
Who would come on the national scene to speak out loud what so many were thinking?
America’s Will Kane finally appeared in the person of Muslim-American Khizr Khan. In his emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention, he picked up the threads of this yet unfinished story. He spoke to delegates and the country about his fallen son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan. He condemned Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims.” Khan challenged Trump’s fundamental understanding of the United States Constitution, and questioned his grasp of the principles of “liberty and justice for all.”
Trump responded with attacks on Khan and his wife. The Khans appeared on media outlets, in response to numerous invitations.
Khizr Khan used the opportunity to implore Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell and Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan to take action. He asked of them, “Isn’t it time to repudiate Trump?” One of his key and recurrent points was the call for “moral courage.”
Trump’s rhetoric goes beyond words and showmanship. The substance of his agenda points to a multitude of red flags. Throughout Trump’s political “ascent,” the rise of hate speech has become unfettered. A quick search on the Internet reveals a plethora of white supremacist groups. They have pledged to mobilize around the effort to eradicate people of color, Jews, and homosexuals from the United States.
It’s easy to look at history, whether recent or in previous centuries, to question a lack of action on the part of individuals and nations. It’s more difficult to want to see things in the present.
No longer is it a question about party loyalty or self-serving political maneuvers.
It’s about taking a stand on doing the right thing. It’s about integrity and conscience.
It’s about High Noon in America.