The Second Presidential Debate

I watched most the of the second U.S. Presidential debate, before disgust and anger compelled me to switch it off, but I did go back read the transcript. As someone who has written many times on the situation in Syria and cares deeply and passionately about the subject, I was hoping to see the candidates address this great, troubling topic. I was disappointed. There was only one question, late in the debate, directly about Syria, which neither candidate answered directly.

“What would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo?”

Clinton’s answer boiled down to wanting to investigate Russia and the Syrian regime for war crimes and to push ISIS out of Iraq. Nothing really about what she would do for the people of Syria, even in purely humanitarian terms. No mention of food, water, or shelter for the millions of people driven from their homes by terror and destruction. Trump’s answer was basically to accept that Aleppo has fallen, turn the people of Syria over to the Assad regime, and focus on defeating ISIS. To me, this plan of action is unconscionable, but Trump has shown a greater willingness to accept tyranny and autocracy than most.

The only other real mention of Syria came during a discussion of Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Trump now refers to his plan as “extreme vetting” while not really explaining what it is, if there would be numerical limits to refugee numbers, if it would apply to immigrants as well as refugees, etc. Clinton stated that the U.S. should do more to help refugees and that we should take in more refugees. The moderators pointed out that her plan called for an increase of Syrian refugees in the U.S. from 10 thousand to 65 thousand. 65,000. Out of nearly 5 million who have fled the country, not to mention the millions more trapped in the apocalyptic maelstrom of hate and violence that is Syria today.

How can the two candidates for “Leader of the Free World” ignore one of the greatest humanitarian crises of the 21st century? What happened to the country I grew up in? The land of free and home of the brave. We did not cower behind our walls afraid of those without. I believe, though it is getting harder everyday, in the America that I have always been told existed: the refuge of the world, the defender of liberty, the vanquisher of Nazism. I believe in the New Colossus:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. What are refugees but these? They are people. People who have lost everything. Floating aimlessly across the sea on rafts in the hope of finding a welcoming shore. Do we dare turn them away? Do we dare look down on them from atop the mountain of wealth in this country and say: “There is no room for you up here!”