In February 2016, at a town hall in New Hampshire, then-candidate Donald Trump was asked about the Syrian crisis, if he could “look children aged 5, 8, 10, in the face and tell them they can’t go to school here.”
This statement came just a few months after the lifeless body of a 3-year-old Syrian boy had washed ashore in Turkey, his mother and 5-year-old brother having also drowned.
Like most Americans who saw the recent images of Syrian children chemically bombed and poisoned by their own government, we know these horrors and cruelties cannot be allowed to continue. That something must be done. The question is, what exactly is the right something?
In the wake of U.S. airstrikes in Syria, this would be a good time to know if we — if our allies and our enemies — should take Trump seriously, or literally.
We saw the photos of that drowned 3 year-old boy and heard Trump say coldly to applause, “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come’.” We have all seen image after horrific image of Syrian children living in fear and being pulled lifeless and bloodied from the ruble left by bombs in Aleppo.
And yet, the president had little response.
So why is it now, after this particular attack, that we finally hear Trump say from the White House Rose Garden, “that attack on children yesterday had a big impact on me — big impact”?
I can’t help but wonder, if it had been Hillary Clinton in the Rose Garden, speaking about the same big impact and then carrying out airstrikes, would we, including Trump, have condemned her for being too predictably hawkish? For responding “like a woman,” emotionally or irrationally?
What are Trump’s beliefs, his principles? The fact is, we do not know, because the president himself does not know.
He was a Democrat until he was a Republican. Pro-choice before deciding he was pro-life. He once said his motto was to hire the best people but not to trust them, but then said he only hires people he trusts.
In 2000, he said, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons and I support a slightly longer waiting period to purchase a gun.” (Trump: The America We Deserve), but changed his tune during his run for president, saying, “I am the strongest person running in favor of the Second Amendment.” (South Carolina, February 15, 2016) The list goes on.
In a Washington Post interview from November 15, 1984, Trump boasted, “It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. … I think I know most of it anyway.”
So, we have a president who claims there is no more to learn about missiles; a president who knows more than the generals do; a president who says, “I alone can can fix it”; a president who says about refugee children, “I can look in their faces and say ‘You can’t come.’ I’ll look them in the face.”
We have a president with no guiding ideology and no firm moral compass.
This past week, the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against his own citizens, and our president responded within hours by sending in more than 50 tomahawk missiles. Yet the same Syrian regime launched a chemical attack in the suburbs of Damascus in 2013, and Trump tweeted, “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!”
Maybe this, 77 days into his presidency, was that more important day. Remember, he alone can fix it.