Using other people’s trauma as a campaign tactic is the one gross act both candidates are guilty of

The final debate of the 2016 election fueled our collective alcoholism problem with its seamless combination of subtle horror and the heavy-hitting realization that the election itself is coming to a close and we will be stuck with one of the candidates come Nov. 8. While there were countless notable debate moments during the course of the night, one of the moments in which both of the candidates responded most similarly was when the Syrian refugee crisis was brought up at the final debate and both candidates managed to exploit the pain of child refugees to boost their campaigns.

While the widespread devastation in Aleppo due to increased airstrikes is a deeply relevant topic for both presidential candidates to address, the way in which they exploited the pain of Syrian refugees, more particularly the viral photos of refugee children who are constantly plastered as mascots of global pain, was just gross. When moderator Chris Wallace pressed both candidates about how they would effectively manage the Israel and Palestinian conflict, their responses were perhaps the most similar of the night. First off, Republican candidate Donald Trump managed to expound upon how horrible he perceives the Aleppo struggle to be, repetitively asking if both Wallace and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had seen the wreckage in Aleppo, which he extrapolated on (citing hurting children) without detailing solid policies that would help people affected.

Similarly, Clinton detailed the pain of one of the most photographed Syrian refugee children, even going so far as to cite his blood and wounds while lamenting the state of the global Syrian refugee crisis and how the United States should (or should not) get involved with that. The problem with this tactic, is that no matter what possibly valid policies you espouse, you’re dehumanizing and consuming people’s pain through your self-promotion tactics.

In the wake of the final debate and a jarring discussion between two presidential candidates in which they cited the injuries of a small boy abroad, the question at hand is: How do political candidates promote their policies without exploiting the personal pain of the citizens whose votes they hope to espouse? Perhaps, even more pressing is the question of whether or not our circus of politics even requires or respects that level of humanitarianism.

Regardless of how we move forward, if we want to act as full human beings in the global theater of politics, we have to treat other people’s humanity as full and nuanced as it actually is.