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America has done the unprecedented and elected a man to the highest position of political power who has no government or civil service experience. If you were to go to a doctor to perform some kind of invasive surgery, you’d want the best person for the job. At the very least, you’d want a surgeon. You’d want that guy or gal who’s spent ten years in med school, another five in residency, and another five performing a number of successful procedures. Even if that surgeon had a terrible bedside manner or acted as arrogant and douchey as Doctor Strange, that’s the person you would want fiddling around inside you when the anesthesia hits.
You don’t want the guy whose main experience with medicine is watching reruns of House and Grey’s Anatomy. You definitely don’t want some schmuck who can regurgitate a few medical facts he read off Facebook or holistic blogs and click-bait articles. But despite all common sense, America has collectively decided that’s who they want to serve as Commander-in-Chief. Despite the fact that the other candidate had pretty much every qualification you could ever want to see in presidential candidate, she still lost. Hell, Trump has pretty much admitted that he didn’t quite understand the scope of what he’d been elected to do. Trump. And of course, I’m sure you’ve heard of the numerous controversies courted during his infamous campaign. The numerous examples of xenophobia, racism, bigotry, and terrifying parallels to the same kind of rhetoric used by Hitler in Nazi Germany just keep on coming.
How could any of this happen? The rest of the world seems to think it’s insane, and majority of the country who didn’t vote for Trump agrees with them. While political science folks will probably be dissecting the causes for years to come, we believe that there is a very relevant parallel that exists in pop culture. You see, as Trump began his political aspirations by switching from his formerly centrist democratic political stance to becoming more conservative by starting the Obama birther movement. This was also the same year that Marvel Studios released the first Iron Man movie.
Marvel Cinematic Universe 'Iron Man' and Trump Begin
Before we get into the deep into this, yes, we recognize that there are totally other reasons that Trump is currently prepping to careen this country off a cliff, but frankly Iron Man is too good a parallel to pass up. People have gotten used to Iron Man. They’re used to his smarmy, self-righteous egotistical behavior. They’ve learned to accept his rampant alcoholism, or the fact that most of the problems the Avengers run into are pretty much Stark’s own goddamn fault… And so it is with Trump. Stark constructed a fleet of power armor capable of decimating a nation’s military. He built an android that tried to destroy the earth, and somehow none of this is ever his fault. Trump has run businesses into the ground, dodged taxes, and said things that would have destroyed almost any other politician’s career. And yet they both manage to survive with their supporters clamoring for more.
The Robert Downey Jr. incarnation of Iron Man has been teaching the American public for the past eight years that they shouldn’t rely on stuffy, boring old bureaucrats to handle things. Hell no! We need hot shot billionaires that play by their own rules. No scene better exemplified this than the Senate hearing in Iron Man 2. Here we see Senator Stern being played by the late Garry Shandling berating Tony Stark for not handing over the Iron Man technology to the US government after essentially launching an international cold war as different countries are all competing to create their own power armor.
No Boring Bureaucracy for Billionaire Vigilantes
Stark even went as far as to provide proof of the immediate danger, showing videos of other countries trying to create their own version of the Iron Man suit. Instead of lending any kind of helping hand, he arrogantly ignored Congress and walked away while bragging about “privatizing world peace.” Which is just the best idea. Stark is an educated man. Surely he knows the root of the term “Banana Republic” and what can happen when a corporation steps in and assumes serious control of a country. Even assuming altruism on his part, all he’d done is paint a massive bulls-eye on his own chest as every petty dictator, terrorist leader, and even more respectable leaders now have a vested interest in this technology that, as seen in later films, puts an ordinary man on par with a god. It only takes one screw-up in Stark’s security before he’d be kidnapped and tortured for his secrets.
Or maybe they just rip the reactor out of his chest and reverse engineer it. And the thing is, it’s still only a matter of time before someone figures the technology out even if Stark doesn’t help anyone because what Stark did is just science. Now that he’s shown it can be done, everyone will try to do it. Oh wait. Someone already did. That’s the plot of Iron Man 2. But let’s get back to the really bad stuff. Unlike the nuclear programs the US has been stonewalling or negotiating around with countries like Iran, Stark was able to create his first model in the middle of a desert with materials easily procured by terrorists living in a cave. I would even have accepted Stark blowing off the United States in favor of working specifically with the United Nations peacekeeping forces and offering to lease out his technology only on officially sanctioned UN peacekeeping missions. Instead, in Iron Man 2, we don’t see him conduct any kind of superhero acts.
Rise of America's Arrogant Bigoted Super Ego
So what about Trump in all this? Well, need we remind you that this is the man that said that “I would never take any of my cards off the table.” when it comes to using nuclear weapons. Sure, it’s not a suit of power armor, but the man lived through the cold war. You’d think he would be a little more forceful in supporting the idea that nuclear Armageddon is a bad idea. But no. The man is infamous for creating entire media circuses to satisfy his ego. Look no further than The Apprentice and the several beauty pageants he’s run to feed his own sense of self-importance and vanity.
And are Trump’s Miss America Pageants really that different than the Stark Expo where Tony dances around with repulsor ray cheerleaders? Which of course all leads to a fight with an angry Russian man who, surprise surprise, his competitors try to make a deal with because it turns out that other people might have some grasp on the same principals that Stark is using to build his suits. The audience should be furious with him and the risks he’s fundamentally taking with our security. Imagine if it wasn’t a business competitor who scooped up Ivan Vanko. Imagine Putin’s Russia with Iron Man suits. Or Isis. Or North Korea.
But somehow, we’re told that this alcoholic narcissist totally has everything under control despite the fact that Stark just proved how incapable he is of looking at the world political stage and realizing just how dangerous his technology really is. Stark started the film boasting about his intellectual prowess and laughing off the idea that anyone could ever manage what he did. After coming face to face with his own faulty reasoning, nothing changed. And nowhere in the film was that treated as a problem. Iron Man is right because he’s a wealthy pseudo philanthropist, and nowhere is that idea ever challenged. Even his own heroism in the first film is mostly motivated by guilt and he creates more problems than he solves when he fights against a US air jet after flying over international skies during his sojourn to Afghanistan.
What a Real Patriot Looks Like
In every film, he just does whatever he feels like. Compare the openings of Winter Soldier to Iron Man 2. We see Captain America actually undertaking a mission to save hostages while Black Widow teases him for not taking more time off to try and hook up with the Shield staff members who think he’s hot. But Captain America doesn’t have time to mess around, unlike Tony Stark who is literally flying into a celebration of his own vanity. Captain America’s brand of heroism isn’t particularly sexy. Being the guy who’s willing to throw himself on a grenade to protect people isn’t fun. But as another Marvel superhero once said, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and that applies just as much when you accept the office of something as critical as the Presidency of the United States of America.
The Price of Presidency
You're essentially sacrificing any pretense of a personal life or free time for the greater good of the 300 million plus citizens you’re supposed to be serving. There’s a reason why Obama looks like he’s aged 25 years after his two terms of presidency and has gone completely grey. But somehow in our culture, the Tony Stark myth that the billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, who’s the the cool maverick, who can solve all the world’s problems by doing whatever the hell he feels like keeps on being perpetuated. This myth is so embedded in our culture that it seemingly convinced a large chunk of the USA that Trump with all his scandals and failed business ventures knows more than all the stuffy boring politicians when it comes to making the country better.
What makes this even more painful is that in every film Iron Man has been featured in, whenever he tries to do something good he just makes things worse. His first genuinely selfless moment comes when he takes the nuke into space to destroy the Chitauri invaders. The fall out after he finally takes on the Kobyayashi Maru no-win scenario is so severe it literally gives him PTSD and slowly ruins his life as he tries to overcompensate. He tries to build a literal and metaphorical suit of iron to protect those around him. In Iron Man 3, he stays up all night building an endless series of Iron Man suits in a futile attempt to protect himself from any potential contingency, which does nothing when two attack helicopters blow up his mansion.
Later on, he tries to build a defense system to protect the whole planet, but instead births a genocidal super robot bent on creating an extinction level event to murder everyone. When he finally feels bad about all the collateral damage he’s caused and agrees to government regulation, he comes to the horrible realization that he helped the government create the MCU equivalent of Guantanamo Bay.
The Price of Stark's Mistakes
Every major villain in the Iron Man films has been created by Stark’s own vanity and negligence. Obadiah Stane just wanted to keep doing business as usual and was literally made from Stark’s years of poor decisions and negligence. Whiplash was forged by the Stark family’s arrogance and Tony’s genuine refusal to clean up all of the sins from his past. The Mandarin’s reign of exploding bio-terror comes from one moment where Tony Stark stood up the poor crippled Adrien Killian on New Year's Eve. Adrien was forced to wait alone on a rooftop when Tony ditched him to get laid. Adrien then literally spent the next 20 years developing super exploding nano machines to get back at Tony Stark and destroyed his mansion with the aforementioned helicopters. And yet, Stark is the guy we love, the one who we can’t seem to get enough of even as everything he touches turns into an endless series of terrible decisions and catastrophe.
Rise of the Billionaire Vigilantes
One rather intriguing trend is nerd culture’s obsession with billionaire vigilante heroes whose cash somehow gives them the right to force their will upon everyone else. It’s not just Stark either. In just about every Batman story, the introduction of Batman never ever makes things better for Gotham. Even in the super serious Christopher Nolan films, things don’t really improve in Gotham until Batman decides to retire and go away. The millions spent on his high-tech room of gadgets and fetish gear could easily go towards helping the citizens of Gotham. Fans love to admire Batman’s unyielding conviction, but the ultimate end result is just a never ending series of escalation as Batman’s villains continue to multiply and endanger the citizens of Gotham because Bruce Wayne refuses to work out his mommy and daddy issues in a more healthy manner.
Even a superhero like Green Arrow spends much of the first season of his series using his funds to build equipment and murder people with his over blown archery kit. Oliver Queen never seems to utilize his wealth to benefit the people of Star City. Instead he hangs out with other CW superheroes in the Greg Berlantiverse and continues to grow an ever expanding team of vigilante crime fighters committed to enforcing the status quo.
The vast bulk of the mainstream comics canon pretty much treats this as totally acceptable too. Batman is treated as more effective, less corrupt, and more dedicated to the average citizen of Gotham than most of the Gotham Police force. The idea that he’s psychologically traumatized and just as crazy as pretty much every other member of his rogue’s gallery is never touched on unless you happen to be reading some of Alan Moore’s contributions to the character. The same can be said for Iron Man, who originally donned the armor in the comics specifically to protect his own investments. And part of the reason for all this is the American myth that the rich are somehow morally superior because of a combination of work ethic and divine god damn providence. Wealth as a superpower is pretty much just the natural end game for that.
In essence, there is a background mythology present in American society. We can see it in the way we so often assume that wealth translates to moral standing. All the pickpockets, muggers, and petty criminals in the Batman universe are evil; none of them are forced into the behavior by a bad economy or because they were fired and need to feed their children. In contrast, Batman is a good person even if he is brutally violent, and Iron Man is afforded a kind of leniency in his behavior. His sexual objectification of women, constant drinking, and the downright dangerous decisions he makes (like Ultron) with no consultation with anyone else are played off as charming when in someone less affluent they would be seen for the serious character flaws they are. And of course, in the real world, we have people like Trump.
Trump’s wealth has convinced half the nation he’s totally not sexist or racist, or at least given people the impression that they should overlook those things because he’s rich just like Iron Man’s incredible wealth and outrageous personality seem to force us to accept that he’s totally not a vain egotistical alcoholic. Never mind the fact that Trump inherited his money, and he’s declared bankruptcy multiple times, and he just settled a lawsuit for fraud. Trump is rich which means we should believe him when he says he can make sure we’ll all be winning so much we’ll be sick of winning… just like the students who forked over thousands of dollars for the fraudulent Trump University are winning their current lawsuit against him.
In Glen Weldon’s book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture, he relates an anecdote about talking to another comic book fan. His friend says that the reason he loves Batman is because we can relate to him. Anyone of us could be Batman. While most people living on planet Earth will never have the privilege or leisure of enjoying the status of being a billionaire, it is one of the few superpowers in comic books that is actually attainable in the real world. Maybe that’s the reason why so many of us look up to accomplished billionaires like Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk even though most of us stand about as much chance of being a billionaire as we do being bitten by a radioactive spider and granted super powers.
Being a Billionaire: The Only Real World Superpower
It feels like they’ve attained the impossible and have the financial capital to challenge the status quo. But if any of these fictional stories have taught us anything, it’s that putting complete control into one person’s hand usually leads to disaster. Steve Jobs was a raging asshole who treated just about everyone who worked under him like shit. Elon Musk wants to create a hacktivist collective to see if they can hack the matrix-like computer simulation of reality. Even the smartest most accomplished billionaires are ultimately interested in serving themselves and are not fit for the grueling bureaucratic oversights of running a country. But now America, and the rest of the world is going to learn that lesson the hard way after seemingly going all the way to fulfill the fantasy of putting Iron Man in the white house.
But hopefully that will change and change soon. It looks like Marvel is already looking to phase out Iron Man in the next four years, and that might be just in time too. Now that Trump’s supporters finally have what they want, they might not be so enamored with what they get. After all, being entertained by a bombastic narcissist as he capers around the silver screen or the campaign trail is very very different than watching the same man tear down the country around your ears. And if that is true, maybe we’ll see more than just a backlash against Trump; hopefully it will spawn a push back against the core mythos that helped create him. Just remember when 2020 comes around, we need a Captain America and not an Iron Man to lead our world into a better tomorrow, no matter how boring and dull those responsibilities may be.