I sat in the theater watching the superheroes of the Marvel Cinematic Universe lose their fight against Thanos, and I noticed dozens of parallels to America's political struggles during the rise of Donald Trump. I watched individual characters fail to stop the story's protagonist as he bulled his way toward his goal. I saw the various heroes aligned against him bickering with each other as they tried to muster their opposition; and as the movie ended, I recognized the stunned disbelief on the heroes faces as they either disappeared in a dissolving fog or bled on the ground watching their friends fall.
The reaction from the audience was stunned, as well. None of us could believe that we had just spent two and a half hours watching the villain of the story win. But as I have said many times in the weeks since, Thanos was the protagonist of this movie--it was his story from the beginning. And the seeds of his story were planted as far back as that first post-credit teaser in which he grinned back at us over his shoulder.
Those parallels are numerous. The primary challengers and Democrats who see themselves as heroes were individually knocked down or knocked out. The Hulk hid inside Bruce Banner, leaving the awkward Banner to trip over his own exoskeleton ("Pokemon go-to-the-polls"). There's even a religious-right figure in Ebony Maw, the cadaverous preacher with telekinetic powers. His lines sound like misquoted scripture, meant to lend a veneer of divinity to the deeply evil goals of the Black Order:
"Hear me and rejoice! You have had the privilege of being saved by the Great Titan. You may think this is suffering. No... it is salvation. The universal scales tip toward balance because of your sacrifice. Smile... for even in death, you have become children of Thanos."
After the 2016 U.S. election, I hated reading all of the think pieces urging "the left" to consider listening to the people who elected Thanos... excuse me, I meant POTUS... as if a) everyone opposing him was "on the left" and b) he represented any coherent political philosophy. The reasons I had opposed him as a candidate were never addressed. It seemed not to bother anyone writing these Op-Ed and urging us to "give him a chance" that he had taken every side of every issue, and had only been consistent on the worst and most vile anti-American positions: Build a Wall, Lock Her Up, and Get That Sonofabitch Outa Here.
But after seeing Infinity War, and thinking for several weeks about how the movie echoed my sense of loss and disbelief since the rise of Donald Thanos ....er, Trump... I saw the insight that some of the writers of those many Op-Eds may have intended: we were focused on defeating the Mad Titan, and not paying enough attention to his core idea.
|Regarding Mussolini (XKCD #261)|
In America, the press and the populace have been guilty of accepting a big lie. The press calls it "balance." It is built out of false equivalence and "whataboutism."
It is this false notion that objectivity in reporting means never calling out a lie as a lie, or condemning bad ideas like racism, segregation, and human rights abuses for what they are. Americans used to be capable of pointing at the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany during World War II and stating unequivocally that those atrocities were evil. Yes, since the rise of the Internet, it has become common for people to overstate the "evil" of ideas they don't like by comparing them to Nazis - thus the coining of "Godwin's Law." But now we have seen prominent Americans who champion the ideas Hitler championed claiming that it is wrong for those of us who oppose their bad ideas to call them what they are.
The insane evil driving Thanos's story was an idea that he stated several times: "There are not enough resources to support everyone, therefore my plan is to acquire ultimate power and kill half of all life in the universe." Americans have bought into that idea, politically; not just the austerity-loving fiscal conservatives, but centrists and moderate progressives, too. "There are not enough resources to take care of everyone, so we have to make tough choices." We've seen this idea placed at the front of discussions about everything from immigration policy, student loans, and economic recovery to healthcare, military spending, and welfare.
But this past week has shown Americans the fruit that grows from planting that seed as we have learned about the human rights atrocities being committed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at our southern border. "There are not enough resources for us to take care of everyone," we say, "and therefore we will take children from their parents and put them in cages."
Attorney General Ebony Maw... excuse me, I meant Jefferson Sessions... cited Romans 13 to justify this evil - apparently ignoring Romans 13:10, "Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
The truth is that America has proven that marshaling our resources and using them to do good things is a net benefit to everyone. We literally built up our former enemies up under a Marshall Plan and turned them into two of our biggest trading partners. Meanwhile, the kind of austerity and "common sense" fiscal conservatism that is offered as a counter-balance to those economic policies fail time and again. But people keep making the argument--and keep accepting Thanos's premise that there aren't enough resources, therefore, Atrocity.
We don't have to accept that idea. We should call it out for being untrue. We should point out the flaw in the premise, and resist anyone who tries to harm others in the name of this flimsy and oft-debunked idea.
In the Marvel Universe, we have to wait until next year to see how Thanos will be defeated. That echoes with American politics, as well. We have to live with the unspooling awfulness that we have allowed to take over our government. We have to sit with the rampant corruption, the evil policies, and the chaotic destruction of the peaceful world that our grandparents built out of the ashes of the last world war.
"Oh, but you're just trying to bring down Trump," his supporters will say. "You're just obsessed with hating him, and you think he's Thanos."
No. That's not what I think. I don't think Trump is Thanos. What I do think is that anyone who has bought into a bad idea - "there aren't enough resources, therefore, the 'inferior' must die" or "'Race' is a biological fact, and only our 'race' should survive" - should be kept as far away from the Infinity Gauntlet and its colorful stones as is possible. When the 350 million of us who make up this country allow the worst third of us to wield that power, I worry that we are Thanos.
At some point, it is true that I think we will have to vote to remove Trump from office. That will either happen in the course of the 2020 election or indirectly through an impeachment for one of the many, many crimes that are being uncovered. But like the Avengers discovered, the Mad Titan shouldn't be the focus of our energy: it's the Very Bad Idea driving him and his supporters that we need to fight.
Our world is better off when the people running it are not corrupt. Our world is better off when the people running it are not treating our neighbors like criminals and our criminals like kings.