The Millennial Left’s Rude Awakening on Syria

Young leftists were outraged that Trump decided to bomb Syria—and then Clinton announced she’d have done the same. Cue the wailing.

When the same idea espoused by different parties leads to opposite reactions, is that reaction driven by principles or by fandom?

The millennial left has had to deal with some uncomfortable truths since Donald Trump’s election. That they don’t live in a country with the same ideological makeup of their peer groups. That, while wokeness may be a virtue on their favorite media, it’s certainly not among vast swaths of the population they may never have met. That millions upon millions of people do not give a shit about things like sitcom diversity or ads that don’t photoshop models or using correct pronouns for a person’s chosen gender. That each person gets only one vote, no matter how ugly their reasons for casting it.

Another one of the more unmooring truths millennial progressives have had to confront post-Nov. 8 is the fact that when it comes to issues like immigration and foreign relations, many of the actions that President Obama took, and many of the actions that President Hillary Clinton would have taken are not necessarily in line with what they think those candidates’ values are.

For example: Last week, when President Trump ordered an airstrike against a Syrian Air Force base, many on the left were disturbed. President Trump didn’t seek authorization from Congress in order to attack a sovereign country, as he should by law. Plus, war isn’t something the left wing is supposed to traditionally favor. But hours earlier, Trump’s former rival Hillary Clinton expressed a similar view to Trump’s at a Women in the World event in New York City.

“I really believe that we should have and still should take out his airfields and prevent him from being able to use them to bomb innocent people and drop sarin gas on them,” the former Democratic nominee for president said.

Now, the difference between Hillary Clinton’s words and Donald Trump’s actions are pretty stark. Trump is president, Clinton is not. Trump actually sent bombs, Clinton did not. What Trump did is real, what Clinton says she would have done is speculative, and pointing fingers of blame at her based on what might have happened in an alternate reality is the very definition of a waste of time. But the similarity in their stances presents an important truth that people who consider themselves left-leaning should consider.

What young people on the left think their leaders are, isn’t necessarily in line with reality.

For example: America wasn’t letting in many Syrian refugees to begin with, even when Obama was president. Those who have been admitted to the U.S. have undergone extensive vetting that takes years. One might even call it “extreme.” The legal thumb war over Trump’s “Muslim ban” isn’t over whether it’s legal for the president to turn an open-arms policy into a cold and closed one. It’s not about turning off a gushing faucet; its effect would be more like stopping a drip.

We weren’t being great to immigrants to begin with. During Obama’s presidency, deportations spiked. Trump is making it worse, but we weren’t doing great to begin with.

It’s possible that those on the left are comfortable with the amount of deportations that were occurring during the Obama era, or with the idea of bombing Syria. It’s also possible that when people’s preferred party is in power, they project their expectations onto those individuals and then rest on their laurels rather than paying close, critical attention. And it’s pretty easy for a young person living comfortably in the U.S. to go about their day not thinking about foreign relations or immigration at all.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the general eight-year space out young Obama voters were able to enjoy before election day, how Obama’s place in the White House gave his young voters something that, in retrospect, seems like a false sense of security at best, a smokescreen at worst. During his presidency, state house after state house fell to Republicans. A 2010 mid-term election blowout during a redistricting year means Dems don’t have a shot at taking back the House for another few cycles, at the very least. It was eight years to kick back and relax and not pay attention, and now all the bills are coming due at once.

The Republican party isn’t exactly a welcoming place for anti-war millennial progressives, either. Back in 2014, then-President Obama sought congressional approval for missile strikes on Syria after a sarin gas attack killed 1,400 people. A Republican-controlled Congress—the same party that’s now lauding Trump’s advanced presidenting—blocked him.

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To political moderates, all of this is probably fine. To paraphrase Louis Armstrong, I say tomato, you say tomahawk. But to the young and anti-war faction of voters who supported Obama and then Clinton, perhaps without spending much time considering what his ideological peers would do in Syria, they must now reckon with the fact that no major party represents their views. And maybe no major party ever really did.