Context

He did it. He really did it. He walked out to the parapet overlooking as many as dozens of supporters, staff, and journalists, waved to the people, and gazed directly into the sun.

You may have heard that there was a rare celestial event yesterday. Hundreds of thousands of stargazers flocked to the swath of American countryside graced by a total eclipse of the sun, bringing with them snarled traffic, various stages of emergency preparedness, and, above all: persistent, dire warnings not to look directly at the fucking sun.

And so when President Trump walked outside and barely hesitated to stare at the thing, the internet response was as swift as it was pointed. And why shouldn’t they be? We’ve been warned about that all day every day for months, and also the photos are objectively hilarious:

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

That is funny. Full stop.

But then like so many things the video tells a slightly different story. Have a look.


Yes, the guy is a goober. Yes, just seeing him stand and move makes my skin crawl. Yes, he glanced up at the eclipse with only those pasty, neglected eyelids squinted against its fire and fury. But stared? No. Certainly he didn’t do anything that any of us haven’t done on any given day.

Don’t get me wrong: this doesn’t mean we can’t ridicule the guy for it. But we need to be careful that we don’t believe it. Because taking snippits of stories (or non-stories) out of context and sensationalizing them is, while satisfying, only harming us.

Seeing what we want to see led us to mis-judge the tenor of the election. It’s led us to underestimate the underpinning class issues in the US that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place. We cannot (accurately) describe our President as a Nazi sympathizer one day and lampoon him like a reality TV celebrity the next.

We, the resistance, fancy ourselves as scientists and critical thinkers. The intelligentsia. We are those who prefer reason and logic to knee-jerk emotional reactions. We value data, and evidence-based policy. Easy, out-of-context jokes palliate very real angst, but they don’t bring us closer to changing the tides in 2018.

Presenting President Trump as a stumbling baffoon is satisfying, and makes us feel better. It’s undeniably hilarious. It may even be true. But it sells short how dangerous he really is. On the same day that he went outside and glanced at the sun, he also held a press conference where he kind of, sort of, described his regressive plans to decrease transparency and accountability from our war in Afghanistan. Less than a week ago he defended Nazis as they carried torches through the streets of our cities.

There may be a time to laugh about this, but now isn’t it. Stay mad. Stay focused. Don’t stare directly at the glowing orb of misdirection.

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