President Donald Trump accused Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of fake crying during a press conference opposing the recent refugee and immigration executive order.
“I know him very well,” Trump told reporters. “I don’t see him as a crier. If he is, he’s a different man. There’s about a 5% chance it was real, but I think they were fake tears.”
Trump’s pointed attack ignores the fact that Schumer’s great-grandmother and many of her children were killed in the Holocaust, so his reaction to a drastic measure preventing refugees from safe harbor may be an emotional one. Even without that familial context, Schumer’s impassioned response to stranded and separated families in his home state seems more than appropriate.
It wasn’t the first time Trump has dinged someone for crying.
He has a long history of dismissing or shaming people crying. He’s called out Glenn Beck, John Boehner, and Jeb Bush on Twitter for crying or being “cry babies” and falsely accused ABC News anchor Martha Raddatz of crying on air after the election.
Despite Trump’s aversion to it, there are many benefits to crying backed by science and research.
Physiologically, there are actually three types of tears: emotional, basal, and reflex.
Emotional tears are a reaction to stress or strong feelings, basal tears keep eyes lubricated, and reflex tears are secreted in response to irritants like dust or onion. All three types of tears are made up of enzymes, oils, mucus, and antibodies in saltwater. Each type of tear possess distinct molecules that are distinguishable under a microscope. William Frey, a biochemist, pharmacologist, and expert on the topic of tears, found that emotional tears contain stress hormones that are expelled from the body through crying.
Whether or not crying expels stress-related toxins from the body, the act of crying is a positive release.
“Letting down one’s guard and one’s defenses and [crying] is a very positive, healthy thing,” Stephen Sideroff, a clinical psychologist at UCLA, told WebMD. And empathetic crying — in response to watching a touching movie or reading something sad in the news — has the same effect. “That process of opening into yourself … it’s like a lock and key,” Sideroff said.
Conversely, stifling or holding back tears may temporarily elevate your heart rate or blood pressure as your body’s sympathetic nervous system (your fight-or-flight response) works overtime to figure out what’s going on.
Not to mention, emotional crying is uniquely human and reveals our empathy for others.
President Barack Obama cried while he spoke to the country following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wept openly after being reunited with a Syrian refugee he welcomed to the country a year prior. Vice President Joe Biden dabbed his eyes while being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Former Speaker of the House John Boehner was frequently moved to tears during award presentations, speeches, stirring songs, and on election night.
What a gift it is to feel so moved by someone else’s story, to feel their joy or misery as if it were your own. What an admirable thing it is to dedicate your life to a goal and see it come to fruition. That kind of empathy and passion shouldn’t be seen as a weakness. It should be rewarded and encouraged.
That’s the kind of strong, dedicated leadership we need in trying times. Someone who understands who they’re working for and why we need each other.
But Trump says he hasn’t cried since he was a baby.
Not for the birth of his children or on his wedding days. Not the deaths of his parents and brother. Not for the thousands of victims on 9/11, the children of Sandy Hook, or the men and women murdered in Charleston. Nothing. That’s not strength. It’s emptiness. It’s cowardice. It’s the kind of emotionless leadership that will prevent us from moving forward as a united country.
So whether or not he’s cried, Trump could stand to do it more often.
To look in the face of the people and families his policies affect at home and abroad and find the joy or tragedy in someone else’s story. He can take a cue from Schumer and Boehner and others and bring some emotion to his work. Not just to remind all of us he’s human, but to remind himself.