There’s a great little opinion piece in the Seattle Times today, illustrated with an even better–and hilarious–image of Trump as a rampaging supervillain and Hillary as the hero fighting him off.
This got me to thinking, so if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to put on my writer hat and go metaphor diving.
There are two basic hero/villain narratives in Western fiction: The rag-tag group of rebels sabotaging The System to end oppression of the downtrodden (Star Wars, Hunger Games, etc.); and the valiant leader(s)/chosen ones fighting to protect a peaceful civilization from being destroyed by insurgents bent on violence and anarchy (most superhero stories, plus Harry Potter, to a degree.)
About half of Trump’s supporters and virtually all of Stein’s and Johnson’s supporters think they’re the heroes of the first narrative. The other half of Trump’s supporters think he’s the hero of the second.
Let’s look at that latter group first.
The Trump-as-Superhero narrative has come from people who believe the American Way of Life (i.e. that which only existed in 1950s TV sitcoms) is under direct attack by terrorists. Not just the usual cults calling themselves Muslims (though those are definitely part of it), but social change itself. Used to be you’d see your neighbors at church every Sunday, but now your neighbors include a same-gender couple raising a few kids, a Latinx family that goes to Mass instead, and a Sikh family that–well, you have no idea what they do, but they certainly don’t SEEM American. If you’re someone who requires homogeneity in order to feel safe, someone promising to restore that to your community seems like the kind of leader who will preserve the idyllic life you want.
The other group doesn’t see Democrats as insurgents, but as well-established oligarchs who have made a point of suppressing the freedom of the little guy via oppressive laws. Business regs, taxes, gun-access laws, etc. Social justice is also a factor here, in that some feel like they’re no longer free to harass women and tell racist jokes like they used to be, and thus see any movement against such things as inherently oppressive. On the leftier side, even though eight years ago, Obama himself was seen as a rebel fighting an oppressive regime, now some people have decided he’s part of the machine himself. Hillary, as both his natural successor and a representative of the last Democrat-dominant era, is undoubtedly part of that machine, too.
So are mainstream Republicans, though. Most of these people don’t just hate experienced Democrats, but most of the non-Tea-Party Republicans who have been in office for the past 40 years, including Reagan. As far as they’re concerned, it’s the entire system–and everyone who’s been involved in it–that’s the oppressive regime, and only someone strong enough to tear the whole thing down can stop it. Many of these people (rightly, to a degree) see collusion between government and industry and have decided everything’s being run on backroom deals made by old people in suits. They think that only by destroying the whole thing can we get government back in the hands of the people. Changing it from within will never work–or at least not work fast enough for people used to instant gratification. They’re either young and privileged enough not to fear having their lives upended, or desperate enough not to care, so bring on the revolution, even if it’s messy.
The people who backed Bernie and who are now backing Stein or Johnson aren’t doing so because they necessarily believe in specific policy positions, but because they want someone outside of the supposed system to clean house. As neither of those three are going to be able to do that, they’re OK with Trump winning because even though he’s abhorrent, he’s at least not a career politician who’s already well-established in the machine. (Nevermind, of course, that as someone who was born rich and made the rest of his fortune through fraud and shady deals, Trump most definitely IS part of that system–the worst part of it, in fact. He’s exactly the sort of robber baron who pays people off to get political favors. He’s literally done so!)
Meanwhile, over here in the seemingly lonely Hillary corner, we have everyone else: The people who see that there is some corruption and oppression, and some awful people who should never be allowed government power, but who nonetheless think the country is in pretty decent shape, and just needs a little more polishing up to get even better. We like the fact that we have diverse neighborhoods and we believe in justice for the oppressed and we want to disarm the people who think anger is best expressed at the end of a gun barrel. We have had our powerful champion–our upstanding superhero–for the past eight years, but we’re now losing him, and we need someone else to help keep the peace and ensure that supervillains and other assorted lovers of chaos don’t upend the tentative peace we’ve been relying on.
Most of us have been perfectly happy with ultimate Nice Guy Captain America, but now we don’t have him anymore. The rest of the Avengers are either retired or too busy with other things these days to step in, but one person has offered to fill his star-spangled shoes: Black Widow. (Personally, I think she’s more Peggy than Natasha, but stay with me here!)
Black Widow, as many know, is a hero with a dark past. Some would say it’s a past too dark for her to be trusted anymore. Sure, she has incredible skills and has been fighting for the good guys for a long time. Sure, she has Cap’s full endorsement, as well as the endorsements of every other member of the team. Sure, she has otherwise mild-mannered family man Hawkeye as her trusty sidekick. But there are “questions” about her past that some say make her unfit for such leadership. (And OK, if you press them, they don’t think a woman is suited for a leadership role anyway.)
The people who think the Avengers themselves are part of the problem don’t want her in power because they want to take down the whole team, plus SHIELD and everything it stands for. Even if it were someone else–Phil Coulson, maybe–running for the position, they still wouldn’t vote for anyone who’s part of the system they think is responsible for every problem–however small–the country faces. Natasha has colluded with a wealthy former arms dealer who himself has been involved in a lot of chaos. She’s worked with foreigners and aliens and people who are rumored to be mentally unstable and dangerous. Can anyone possibly trust her judgment?
But here’s the thing: She’s not only the hero the country needs, and someone with the skills and experience to do the job, she’s the only person standing in the way of handing the reins over to someone who’s literally a member of Hydra. Call him Orange Skull or MODOC or whatever, the dude is a danger not just to the country but humanity itself, and yet people are more concerned that Natasha has a bit of a checkered past? Maybe her methods haven’t always been clean, but for the vast majority of her career, she’s been fighting to protect innocents and preserve the peace against a deeply embedded network of villains bent on destruction. Surely that has to count for something.
No, she’s not Cap. Maybe she’s not any of the other superheroes you wish were in the running. But she’s not just the only moral choice for the job, but the only one with enough skill and experience to do it. Let her take this role. Let her do the job she has more than earned the right to do.