Donald Trump has said a lot of controversial things in pursuing the presidency of the United States. But his attacks on the parents of a Muslim American serviceman who was killed in Iraq show an astonishing lack of empathy.

Khizr Khan delivered a stirring speech at last week’s Democratic National Convention in which he mourned his son, Humayun, an Army captain killed by a suicide bomber in 2004. With his wife, Ghazala, at his side, Khan criticized Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims and said Trump has sacrificed nothing.

The Republican nominee criticized Khizr as a tool of Hillary Clinton’s campaign and Ghazala, who was silent during her husband’s speech, as being muzzled by her Muslim faith. In both cases, he could not fathom the aching sorrow of two people still suffering the loss of a child. And Trump compounded his rashness by saying that he, too, has sacrificed by working hard and creating thousands of jobs, an outrageous belittling of their ordeal.

His comments provoked a torrent of visceral disgust. It came from veterans organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a group of Gold Star families, who have lost a family member to war, as well as from people of all political persuasions, including many in his own party — criticism that was more intense than the usual response to his crude antics and denigrations. This was repellent. The nature of the presidency requires that sometimes you simply have to take it. You cannot be small, or small-minded. Trump should have thanked the Khans for their son’s service and their collective sacrifice and moved on.

He also remains incapable of understanding that a love of America and its principles brought many immigrants to this country, and they are willing to defend and die for those principles. The episode shows a lack of grace, judgment and, most disturbingly, empathy in Trump, who seeks to be president of all Americans but cannot see or understand them for who they really are.

Sensing perhaps that this episode could be a turning point in the race, Trump yesterday invented a new outrage to shift the focus, saying he feared the election would be rigged against him. Rather than attack a family’s credibility, now he seeks to undermine faith in the nation’s electoral system.

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That, too, is despicable.

— The editorial board