Event horizon (noun): the point in space where gravity is so great, not even light can escape. Meaningful differences still exist beyond the event horizon, but due to a massive gravitational pull, an outside observer can’t differentiate between any objects after that point.

I recently watched a rough cut of a documentary about Michigan football that contains a scene of a group of students protesting Trump’s election. They hold signs declaring Trump a racist. A man approaches them and asks them to name Trump’s sins. The first sin that comes out of a protester’s mouth is Trump’s utterance of “bad hombres.” The protesters go on to point out Trump’s derisive comments about Mexicans, and the man retorts that Trump doesn’t want to ban Mexicans, but wants to crackdown on “illegals.”

This scene demonstrates that Trump has reached his own event horizon. He has become such a toxic figure that liberals don’t differentiate between his “less terrible” offenses and his egregious ones. Additionally, liberals have come to associate his singularly destructive personality so closely with his policies that those policies are no longer given due, critical examination. I don’t mean this as a criticism of these protesters, in particular; if someone put me on the spot, I would also likely have trouble coming up with specific examples of Trump’s racism. Rather, I blame liberal discourse, which has ineffectively separated the bad and the ugly.

Consider The New York Times’ collection of insults Trump has hurled on Twitter since he announced his presidential bid. Its presentation is brutalist, and displays columns of insults with no aesthetic goal other than to inspire shock and awe. The complete collection is 77 pages printed out. There’s certainly value in having such a resource, and I don’t want to argue that we shouldn’t pay attention to Trump’s Twitter account. His online presence has allowed him to circumvent the press and agenda-set without traditional journalistic scrutiny. We can’t understand Trump’s character or goals as a politician without understanding his Twitter.

But the list elides his greater offenses. His imitation of a disabled New York Times reporter, his assertion that John McCain isn’t a war hero because he was captured, his brags about grabbing girls by the pussy and his lie that Arabs celebrated the destruction of the World Trade Center — these are indefensible. His claim that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t fairly adjudicate a case against Trump due to Curiel’s Mexican heritage drew condemnation across the political spectrum. Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan went as far as to say, “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.”

By allowing statements like these to lose saliency, liberal discourse has enabled people to forget Trump’s highlight reel. Liberals have to hold these egregious statements close to our minds and be ready to deploy them when someone asks what makes Trump a racist. While liberals like myself may find statements he’s made about “bad hombres” offensive, I don’t think they compare to his comments on Judge Curiel. As demonstrated in the scene above, Trump’s supporters can easily interpret his comments about “bad hombres” as referring specifically to undocumented immigrants. It’s not that drawing attention to his “lesser offenses” isn’t important; we need to catalogue every instance of Trump’s hate. But by focusing on his unequivocally vile ones, we can begin to shift our citizenry’s understanding of him. As I’ve written in the past, I don’t think most Trump supporters are white supremacists. Rather, they are complicit in advancing racism. If liberals had done a better job of keeping Trump’s clear-cut hatred at the forefront of our national dialogue, maybe the election would have turned out differently.

Because so much of his rhetoric goes beyond the pale, people have also lost the ability to critically analyze his policy proposals. Ask yourself: Why is his plan to build a wall so much more unpalatable than other hardline approaches to immigration? It’s expensive, but so is hiring thousands more border patrol officers. And perhaps the wall would reify American prejudice and damage Mexican-American relations. But beyond those two arguments, I can’t think of many more issues with the wall.

Public knowledge of critiques of his policies is similarly one-dimensional. For instance, in a speech castigating Trump, Mitt Romney suggested that his trade policies would start a trade war with China, and quickly moved on to another criticism. It’s not enough to just say Trump will instigate a trade war with China. What will this trade war look like? What effects will it have on American consumers and manufacturers? What about our foreign relations? This lack of public understanding is obviously coupled with the fact that candidates’ personalities, rather than substantial policy discussion, drove this past election. But going forward, liberals need to do our homework on why Trump’s policies will be so disastrous.

One oft-repeated prognosis of the election has been that the media took Trump literally but not seriously, while his supporters took him seriously but not literally. Now that he’s president-elect, we have to take him both seriously and literally. By writing about his policies with proper rigor and not permitting his most despicable moments to be forgotten, resistance against Trump can broaden our country’s understanding of both his ineptitude and toxicity.

Roland Davidson can be reached at mhenryda@umich.edu.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.