Profound thoughts arise only in debate, with a possibility of counterargument, only when there is a possibility of expressing not only correct ideas but also dubious ideas.
Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov,
Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom

They weren’t watching the debate. Because of their close quarters, the parents knew that if they were watching, their children would be watching and they knew that what the children didn’t hear would be upsetting for the children. They would be unable to explain to the children why they didn’t hear what they didn’t hear. Those parents’ reasons for not letting their children watch were different from those parents who didn’t let their children watch because of what might be explicitly said about Mr. Trump’s voracious sexual appetite.

The parents in the first group would not know how to explain to their children that for almost the first half hour of the debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on October 9, 2016, the children heard no discussion of their plight. The parents would not know how to explain to their children that when directly asked in the second half hour of the debate what each of them would do to help the few families that may be left when sworn in as president, one at first answered obliquely and only in follow up discussion made more definitive statements as to what she would do. The other made no attempt to answer the question. The question had been submitted by a listener: “[I]f you were president, what would you do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo. Isn’t it a lot like the Holocaust when the U.S. waited too long before we helped?”

The question might have been inspired by a report in the New York Times that sought to explain why so many children were being killed in Aleppo. As the opening paragraph of the New York Times report said: “They [children] cannot play, sleep or attend school. Increasingly, they cannot eat. Injury or illness could be fatal. Many just huddle with their parents in windowless underground shelters . . . . Among the roughly 250,000 people trapped in the insurgent redoubt of the divided northern Syrian city are 100,000 children.

Secretary Clinton gave the first inadequate response. She said that the situation in Aleppo is “catastrophic.” As Secretary of State she said she had advocated no-fly and safe zones. She said the United States had to work more closely with its allies on the ground.

Mr. Trump responded using 349 words. He never mentioned Aleppo. The moderator repeated the question about Aleppo quoting Michael Spence, the vice-presidential candidate saying that the United States “should be prepared to use military force to strike the military targets of the Assad regime.” Mr. Trump’s only statement about what the United States should do in Aleppo was to say that he disagreed with Mr. Spence and said: “I think Aleppo is a disaster- “humanitarian-wise.” Pressed further, he began discussing events in Mosul, Iraq, at great length. When he had finished, Secretary Clinton was again asked whether she would advocate the use of U.S. military force to back up diplomacy and what she would do differently from what the president was doing. She responded that she would not use ground forces in Syria, but would advocate the use of special forces as was being done in Iraq. With that response, Aleppo went to the back of the discussion, a discussion that concluded with more discussion of the use of forces in Iraq. As Martha Raddatz, one of the moderators, brought that discussion to a close, Mr. Trump, who had only mentioned the word Aleppo once in his answers, concluded his remarks on the subject saying: “You know what’s funny? She went over a minute over, and you don’t stop her. When I go one second over, it’s like a big deal.”

The parents huddled in the basements of what was left of their houses, did not want their children to hear what the two candidates for the presidency of the strongest country in the world had said in response to the question about their plight. The little boy who had been photographed sitting pitifully in a chair with his bloody face only a few weeks earlier would not have understood when his mother tried to explain to him why only one of the candidates to become president of the United States even attempted to explain what she would do to help him and his family and others like him. The parents of the child who was seen being pulled from the rubble after a bunker bomb had destroyed his safe haven, would not understand why one of the candidates was so concerned about how much time he had to answer a question, when the little boy wondered how much time he had left before another bomb landed on his dwelling.

There was one bit of encouraging news the Aleppo parents could have shared with their children had they let them watch. They could tell their children that whereas the word “Aleppo” was used only ten times in the Sunday night debate, it was not mentioned at all in the debate ten days earlier. As a spokeswoman for the American Relief Coalition for Syria said after the first debate, the coalition was “deeply disappointed by the utter failure of last night’s debate to even mention Syria.” The Coalition’s disappointment with the candidates’ responses after Sunday night’s debate was probably only slightly less than it had been the previous week. Understandably. Imagine how the children in Aleppo would have felt had they only known. Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at [email protected] For political commentary see his web page at

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