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What Tony Stark Can Teach Us About Donald Trump

About two weeks ago the CEO of Marvel Comics made a $1 million donation to Donald Trump’s veterans’ benefit, which left some people outraged. Apparently fans were surprised at the implication that Marvel Comics might share and endorse Trump’s values.

This got me thinking: Donald Trump really isn’t all that different from the many billionaires who moonlight as superheroes in comic book movies. The fact that a character like Tony Stark can become such a beloved hero should have told us back in the summer that Trump’s popularity in the polls was very real.

Stark is by far the most fun and entertaining of all of the comic book superheroes currently on the big screen.

But I’ve always found it odd that a defense contractor who made his fortune making weapons of war is a likable hero. I mean, it’s not like he made his fortune producing something that made the world a better place, or even just more fun with gadgets like smartphones. His success his paved with the dead bodies of many, many people. Further, he’s an old-economy business tycoon — not somebody out in Palo Alto who earned their fortune from a smartphone app.

It’s also noteworthy that Stark isn’t an underdog who has been given the gift of great power or faced some kind of childhood adversity like Peter Parker (Spider-Man), Steve Rogers (Captain America), Clark Kent (Superman) or Matt Murdock (Daredevil). There’s simply nothing relatable about Stark, nor anything we can empathize with. He lives a pretty gilded life.

The next odd bit about Stark is that he’s been put I charge of national and planetary defense despite having not having any military experience (where as most of The Avengers are ex-military). Further, his authority has also never been legally codified. Nobody elected him, nobody appointed him to a cabinet level position. The Avengers, which he bank rolls, is essentially a paramilitary operation outside the control of the U.S. government. Despite his onetime association with S.H.I.E.L.D. he is not accountable to anyone. Stark’s non-legal authority goes way past comic book heroes being depicted as vigilantes who the police claim to scorn but turn a blind eye to.

But in the world of The Avengers, it makes sense for Stark to be entrusted with the security of the world. The U.S. government cannot be trusted because Hydra is everywhere, and Stark cannot be influenced by Hydra because of his wealth.

The Christopher Nolan Batman movies make a similar argument. Because police, judges, and lawyers can all easily be bribed, Gotham needs an extrajudicial agent of the law.

If you think the system is corrupt that’s excuse enough to play by your own rules.

I always thought that the movies would have been far more interesting if Bruce Wayne wasn’t rich, that he was as susceptible to the temptations of greed as the rest of us. But his purity, like Stark’s, is never questioned because they both have more money than god.

So now let’s bring this back to Trump.

A central element of his candidacy is that because he’s a billionaire he doesn’t need campaign contributions from anyone, and thus will not be subservient to lobbyists. While there may be some truth to that, it’s a pretty black and white view of the world. It assumes nobody can accept a campaign contribution without strings being attached, and that since he doesn’t accept contributions he will never take action to benefit one person over the needs of many others. In other words, the whole system is corrupt and the only person you can trust is a billionaire.

The similarity between Stark and Trump’s personalities are pretty self-evident. They’re both larger than life and media friendly, who relish thumbing their nose at authority. Our culture has always celebrated eccentric billionaires, and Stark’s flamboyance and arrogance in no way disqualifies from being in charge of planetary defense. We love it that he always says what’s on his mind and never backs down. And by comparison, the rest of The Avengers take their jobs a lot more seriously.

Of course it’s these characteristics that make Stark such an enjoyable character; the same could be the said of Trump, and why people accept the incongruity of trusting someone who has a game show host persona with control of the nuclear codes. If he was more serious and lower key he wouldn’t be so popular.

So while Marvel Comics may not endorse Trump’s specific platform, it does endorse the idea that a loudmouth billionaire actually makes perfect sense for President of the United States.

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