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Sunday, 7 February 2016

Some Men Just Want to See the World Burn: Why Donald Trump is the Joker

Just a quick one this week, as I prepare for the Super Bowl this afternoon, but I've been thinking about this all week. Specifically, how Donald Trump is not just A joker, but also THE Joker, ie Batman's archenemy.

So I was stretching my legs the other day at work with a quick walk around the neighborhood, and as so often happens, my mind started wandering to what I'd do and say if I were running for president. And given that nobody seems to know how to respond to Donald Trump's various incivilities, I was wondering how it would go down if some just told him to fuck off.

It occurred to me that, satisfying as that would be, it would mark his total victory in the way politics is played these days, because it would have meant whoever told him to fuck off would have fallen to his level. This isn't, btw, a question of standards and "fair play" and all that bullshit - telling Donald Trump to fuck off means that he's gotten under your skin, and effectively turned you into his own mirror image.

And, because Batman is never too far from my thoughts, it occurred to me that this is the same dynamic that Batman has with the Joker. The Joker's whole M.O. is to corrupt people, and Batman remains the biggest prize of all - if the Joker could get Batman to kill someone, even (or especially) the Joker himself, that shows that the Joker's been right all along. To put it another way, the Joker wants to show that society is an illusion, and people are all raging beasts underneath it all; while Batman represents the people who work in the shadows to make the rest of us safe, at least as Christopher Nolan's films would have it, he maintains a very strict line that he won't cross.

So how does this apply to Donald Trump? Well, without questioning his motives, it's fair to say that he's certainly appealing to the very worst tendencies in the American electorate at the moment. He's telling people the things they long to hear - that everybody's laughing at us (which they are, but not for the reason he thinks), that we're being swindled (again, not by the people he says are swindling us) and that he can fix it all.

Given that so many are still feeling the after-effects of the latest recession (btw, when do we get to start calling it a depression? It's been going on for the best part of a decade at this point...), and so many are terrified of what's happening in the rest of the world with ISIS and civil wars and drug wars, I think a lot of the simple answers he's peddling are comforting. And, not very many of the candidates on either side of the aisle are talking about how to make Americans feel better (despite being an ardent Democrat and leaning toward Bernie Sanders, I have to say that Sanders doesn't strike me as very strong on foreign policy).

But the problem is that Trump is encouraging people to give vent to their darkest impulses. The short term answer to international terrorism may seem to be "Close the borders", but we'll be safer if we take on ISIS and Al Qaeda (and, for that matter, Vladimir Putin) with a view to long-term solutions, and in an adult way.

In the Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan's second Batman film, the climax of the Joker's plan is to wire up two ships with explosives, one full of convicts and the other full of civilians, and essentially dare them not to blow the other up. The "law-abiding" citizens loudly insist on their right to take a vote, and driven by fear, vote to blow up the other ship. The convicts, on the other hand... don't.

The Joker's plan was to turn the people of the city against one another - and Donald Trump, whether or not he means to, is doing the same. But we're better than what he's telling us we are, and we deserve candidates who know that.