Syria, Video and Seders

Terry H. Schwadron

Of all the what-was-behind-it explanations for the President’s instant turnaround and decision to send missiles into a Syrian airbase, the one the stands out as the most frightening — and most believable — is that he was moved by pictures of the victims he saw on television.

It means that the President of the United States is an emotional child who reacted simply to depiction rather than to fact, argument, history, context — you know, words.

His action was “instinctive,” rather than thought through. That makes perfect explanation for a petulant, ego-bound guy who demands loyalty over fact, who backs anything, including legislation, with his name on it, so long as it can win the day, who leads with and closes with his boastful self.

The act may have been “right,” but it also makes him hollow, power-hungry and a little wickedly unconnected with his world.

I bombed Syria: See me, praise me, bow to me.

It’s the most effective explanation for why this 63-hour-turnabout was different from that to years and years of bombardment, starvation, shootings and other non-chemical killings inflicted on Syria’s own people by its government could not move him. Still, there have been plenty of televised pictures of refugees from this same war, nightly pictures of starvation and bombings that have not drawn any empathy from him.

So, in my head, I understand that he has to be for something just because Barack Obama felt otherwise. That is to say that maybe it isn’t video, it’s the need to be an instant hero.

I am right, because only I know know what is right.

I like the video theory, though, I must say. For a guy who avoids the complexities of drawing a conclusion from hearing a lot of debate and cutting through, the images explained a lot.

So much do I like the thinking that I’m tempted to send him a lot of videos for him to pour though.

Why not a video of children who cannot afford health care, or one on the effects of lead paint poisoning. What happened to the videos of horribly polluted water rushing through the taps of Flint, Michigan? Or videos from Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland and Chicago neighborhoods

Why isn’t the reaction to right his vision, to be able to see suffering and injustice, and to announce simply that these situations are not right. He could become a true populist an true hero overnight by recognizing injustice and deciding to do something about it.

But his vision is skewed. He can see white coal miners in West Virginia who suffer, but apparently not see the faces of Middle Eastern refugees or urban blacks or Latinos who quiver in fear that their families might be ripped apart for lack of a legal license to be here.

I can do it again if you get out of line!

Of course, as predicted, two days later, almost everything he did was proving a ripple in the pond. Bashar al-Assad is still in power, whatever chemical stocks were held back are still in hiding, the Russians are pissed, the North Koreans are warned, and Syrian government bombing planes returned to the very town that had been hit by the chemical attack, with new deaths resulting. More refugees were on the road to nowhere, more international agreements were in question, the UN was still ineffective, congress members were muttering to themselves about whether the President even had the appropriate legal basis for launching the strikes, and serious discord within White House ranked had overflowed its private chambers.

It’s Passover time, a chance again to revisit the Pharoah (Assad? Putin?) and Moses with an outstretched arm armed with a rod (Hmmm, Charleton Heston? Alec Baldwin?) primed for action. One wants unthinking slaves and the other, a reformed thinker who is acting for God to free his people from slavery. Neither figure required pictures to know what to do. Neither was particularly motivated by lower taxes, either. The Seder teaches many things, including the responsibility to act to help others, particularly if they cannot help themselves. The festive meals include no ego sandwich, leavened or not, just some symbols to help remind us of who we are, how we came here, and to prompt us to deal with our personal Egypts.

Maybe the President should go by his daughter’s house tomorrow to join the Seder to see through words, to benefit from a tradition of belonging and a culture of helping.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer