The intersection of Donald Trump and the concept of sacrifice has dominated news coverage in the last few days. But the significance of it goes far beyond the fact of a candidate with a tin ear.
The aggravating facts are presently well known (and may they stay so into November). At the Democratic National Convention, a couple from Charlottesville, Virginia, Kizr and Ghazala Khan, spoke about how in 2004 their son U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan was killed in Iraq by a car bomb. Their story had circulated for some years, and early in convention planning organizers asked if they would be willing to have pictures of they and their son shown at the convention, in the context of criticizing Trump's proposal to limit or ban immigration by Muslims. The Khans, who themselves are Muslim immigrants, agreed. They also agreed when asked if they would like to appear on stage themselves, to express their thoughts; they agreed again. They turned down only an offer of help from a party speech writer; Kizr Khan, an attorney, said he knew exactly what he wanted to say. On stage, standing next to Ghazala, he delivered it all without a teleprompter or any notes. He challenged Trump's knowledge of the constitution, holding up a copy and offering to lend it to the candidate. Then, noting the loss his family had incurred, he addressed Trump: "You have sacrificed nothing and no one."
Trump could have responded simply with a statement of condolence for their loss and thanks and respect for his son's service, possibly with an added note that they did simply disagree on national security policy. Or something similar.
Instead, in an interview on ABC, he launched into attack. “Who wrote that? Did Hillary's script writers write it?” he asked of Khan's talk. He questioned why his wife did not speak. (She explained in an op-ed that she was afraid she would break down crying on stage seeing her son's picture there.)
Then, asked if Khan was right - that he had made no sacrifices - Trump might have acknowledged that the Khan family's was far greater than any in his own life. But no: “I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. 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.” That was the nature of his sacrifice.
On August 1, a surrogate was asked: Was "success" and "creating jobs" really a sacrifice? Apparently stuck for a reply, she suggested that his hard work had led to the collapse of two marriages, and that was a sacrifice. (A Democratic operative jumped in to note that his infidelities, which he often bragged about, might also have had quite a bit to do with the two divorces.)
Trump would be hard pressed after all this - and other campaign words and actions reach this area as well - to convince most people that he even understands the concept of sacrifice. A basic piece of civilized behavior ordinarily easily managed by elected officials coast to coast, from Congress to mayors of the smallest towns, seems entirely beyond him.
That would make him a lousy greeter or comforter of, for example, wounded combat troops. But the problem is much broader than that. A president fundamentally unable to grasp what the sense of loss may mean for other people, and how to cope with it both emotionally and practically, is a president unable to communicate with and lead the American people. He will have no understanding of what the American people are trying to tell him, or why it is important, and he will have no sense that there's anything he can or should do to help. He may speak, but he cannot hear - or understand what those sounds mean.
This is a fundamental disqualifer.