Donald Trump changed his mind on Syria after the sarin gas attack last Tuesday. The attack killed 70 people, including 10 children.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denies using the chemical weapons and blames rebel forces. Trump blames Assad. Russia asserts they had no planes in the area, so Putin isn’t responsible for the gas airstrikes that killed 70 civilians.
The geo-political crisis is escalating as accusations fly. Trump moved away from his “America First” isolationism and bombed Syrian air fields. Why? As he explained on Thursday,
I will tell you that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me—big impact. My attitude toward Syria and Assad has changed very much. Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women, and children. It was a slow and brutal death for so many. Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack.
My gut reaction was anger. Anger at Assad for his role in the Syrian civil war. Anger at Russia for backing Assad’s brutal dictatorship. Anger that even though Obama dropped more than 12,000 bombs in Syria during 2016 alone, those bombs haven’t defeated ISIS or freed the Syrian people from an endless cycle of violence.
But I was mostly frustrated with Trump’s hypocrisy. He labeled the Syrian people who suffered this violent attack as “helpless men, women, and children,” “innocent civilians,” and “beautiful babies.” Yet, when Syrian parents flee their war-torn nation to seek refuge for their “beautiful babies” in the United States, Trump labels the same Syrians as terrorists.
Many progressives have been making that point as they label Trump a hypocrite. I don’t know what’s inside Trump’s heart, and I would hate to be the President of the United States with geo-political crises in Syria, Russian, North Korea, China, and the Philippines.
But if we really care about the Syrian people, one thing we can do is accept refugees into our nation. After all, they are just “helpless men, women, and children.”
This is where progressives need to be careful with our strategy. We know that Trump does not respond well to shame. When we accuse him of being a heartless hypocrite, he responds by doubling down.
We also know that Trump has a massive ego. (Can “massive” be an understatement?) He wants to go down in history as a great American President. But what makes an American President great? America is at our best when we are moved by compassion for one another and for our global neighbors. Trump’s route to becoming a great President must therefore be through empathy for those on the margins.
Even if we doubt Trump’s empathy, we can hold him accountable to his statement of empathy for the “helpless men, women, and children” of Syria. Because all humans are made in the image of the God who is Love, we can trust that empathy and compassion exists within everyone, including President Trump.
Therefore, progressives would do well to resist shaming Trump with accusations of hypocrisy and instead encourage that empathy. Once that empathy is nurtured, it will lead to opening our national doors to these “beautiful babies” and their parents.
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