If you're like many American adults, you're probably spending this week thinking up costume ideas for your upcoming Halloween parties. Sexy Ken Bone is taken, but there are plenty of other timely memes to explore. What about Sexy Pokémon Go Trainer? Or Sexy Exploding Samsung Galaxy Note 7?
For better or worse, topical Halloween costumes are here to stay. But let me give you a warning, my friends: if you dress up as Donald Trump this year, you will be judged, and judged harshly.
Trump costumes will be ubiquitous this Halloween. If you walk into a costume shop, you can bet there will be a large supply of Trump masks (probably called "Combover Candidate," or some other trademark dodge) very close to the register. One costume store owner told the Boston Globe that sales of Trump masks had "tripled or quadrupled" sales of candidate masks from previous years.
You may be tempted to buy one, too. After all, a last-minute Trump costume is easy: blond wig, dark suit, red "Make America Great Again" hat. It's universally recognizable and cheap to pull off. And in this election year, what could be scarier than going as a racist xenophobe who brags about sexually assaulting women and undermines the foundations of democracy? Ha ha!
For adults, Halloween costumes come in several distinct flavors. There are spooky costumes (pirates, vampires, ghosts), celebrities and characters (Harry Potter, Beyoncé, Elsa from "Frozen"), animals (cats, lizards, lions), uniformed humans (policemen, lumberjacks, nurses), conceptual jokes ("climate change") and costumes based on current events.
Donald Trump falls into two of those categories—he's a recognizable celebrity, and he's the most talked-about newsmaker on the planet. So why should you avoid dressing up like him?
Because context matters. At the moment, Donald Trump is a uniquely terrifying figure for many Americans, including women, Muslims, and immigrants. To many of these people, Trump, the Republican nominee for president, is not scary in the same way that a ghost or goblin is scary—he's a real, present danger to their lives and livelihoods. Shoving Trump masks in these people's faces, even as a joke, registers somewhere between tasteless and cruel.
How will your Mexican-American neighbors feel when they open their front door to a smirking trick-or-treater in a "Build the Wall" shirt? Will the sexual assault survivors at your Halloween party be amused by your bright red "Grab 'Em By The Pussy" hat?
We have always made exceptions to Halloween's anything-goes spirit. All conscientious adults know that it's not okay to dress up as Hitler, put on blackface, or don turbans and fake dynamite vests for a "Muslim terrorist" look. Timing matters, too—a Jesse James costume is kosher, because more than a century has passed since his crimes, but a Bill Cosby costume is not.
Donald Trump is not Dracula. He's a real, flesh-and-blood presidential candidate, running a destructive and divisive campaign that has already sparked violent backlash, triggered harmful flashbacks for survivors of sexual assault, and caused a documented uptick in anxiety and other psychological issues.
“We’ve seen a lot of emotional distress because of the stuff going on with the election,” said Dr. Stephen Stein, president of the DC Psychological Association, told the Huffington Post recently. “Certainly with women who had been traumatized before, or had been assaulted or raped or molested, there’s something very unique in this experience that’s enormously painful and scary for a lot of people.”
Is that the reaction you want from your costume?
Of course, not all political costumes are in bad taste. Pantsuited Hillary Clinton impersonators will garner no objections from me. Bernie Sanders impersonators? Sure! If you travel in wonkish circles, may I suggest a Sexy John Podesta's Inbox?
But unless you want to signal to your friends and neighbors that you don't care about women, immigrants, Muslims, or any of the other constituencies that Trump has spent the last year and a half offending, consider steering away from the easy temptation to Make Trick-or-Treating Great Again. Halloween is supposed to be a celebration of imaginary menaces, not an imposition of real ones.