June 9, 2024 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Trump, stupid people’s antihero

He isn’t in the same league as Tony Soprano, writes Stephen Robinson.

Courtesy of WNCT.
Courtesy of WNCT.

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Editor’s note: The following, which is for Editorial Board members only, first appeared in The Play Typer Guy, Stephen’s newsletter. –JS

Convicted felon Donald Trump has absolutely no heroic qualities. He’s a bully and a coward. There’s no doubt that he’d use a baby as a human shield like Martin Sheen in The Dead Zone. However, a specific demographic of Americans — “dummies” — still admires him.

The Times ran an article Tuesday titled ‘Antihero’ or ‘Felon’: 11 Undecided Voters Struggle With How to See Trump Post-Verdict. These geniuses, on which our democracy hinges, aren’t quite sure how to view a man convicted of 34 felony counts and who, a jury determined, repeatedly defamed the woman he sexually assaulted. The word “criminal” seems an ideal descriptor, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

When asked “after the Trump verdict, what word best describes how you feel about Donald Trump,” John, a 58-year-old white man from Pennsylvania, said “martyred,” because he apparently didn’t get enough love in his childhood. Wendy, a 57-year-old Black woman from New York, said “unpredictable but memorable,” which is how I describe the woman I dated in 2004, who claimed she’d been abducted by aliens.

This is gonna be one of those focus groups, isn’t it?

From the Times:

The idea of voting for a felon for president was unacceptable, un-American or too unreal for several of our participants, including some of those who gave Mr. Trump credit for managing the economy. Others thought Democrats pushed these felony charges to help Mr. Biden politically, saying that the Biden campaign was trying to exploit the verdict.

Seems like the whole point of a journalistic enterprise is to correct obvious misinformation. There was no political motive behind Trump’s prosecution. He just kept committing crimes in broad daylight, and America at least tries to have a reasonably fair criminal justice system. (Yes, I know it’s hard to read the last half of that sentence without laughing.) But the Times isn’t in the business of telling people they’re wrong. That’s where I come in.

James, a 53-year-old white man from Iowa, complained, “they’ve been going after Trump since he was elected in 2016.” (Because Trump is a criminal.) “Democracy is supposed to be about the will of the people. I don’t really think the majority of the people in this country wanted to see him prosecuted on these charges.” (Most Americans agree with the verdict and believe Trump was guilty.)

Jorge, a 52-year-old Latino man from California, said, “I think Donald Trump would never have a fair trial in New York because, like many people said, most of the jury was probably Democrat. It’s like if we have a trial for Biden in Houston.”

Trump’s legal team agreed to the jury that returned the guilty verdict. Also, Houston is in Harris County, which Biden carried 56 to 42 percent. If he were to falsify business records in Houston to cover up payments to an adult film star, he’d first need to set up a business in Houston. Once he’s done that and shamelessly cheated on his wife and coerced the adult film star into sex, he’d probably get a decent shake in Houston, but that sounds like a lot of work.

Defaming Tony Soprano
The Times advises that we “check out the feisty exchange in the group about Tony Soprano,” who some voters in the focus group compare to Trump. It was once a dealbreaker when presidential candidates reminded voters of famous fictional gangsters, but in Trump’s case, it’s giving him too much credit.

Jonathan, a 37-year-old Black man from Florida, said, “Trump is not a moral compass to a lot of his supporters. He’s the bad guy that’ll do things on our behalf. He’s the Tony Soprano or the Walter White —”

Ben, a 42-year-old white college adviser, responded, “Don’t bring my Sopranos into this.” That’s a fair point. I should clarify again that Tony Soprano is a gangster and a murderer. Walter White from Breaking Bad is a drug kingpin and a murderer. These characters both have entires in the Villains Wiki. Ruthless killers aren’t ideal models for a US president, but maybe I’m as naive as Kay in The Godfather.

Jonathan insisted that Trump’s an “antihero,” leading an exasperated Ben to literally invoke Joe Biden: “Come on, man!”

The ironically named Hillary, a 55-year-old white social worker from California, said, “Jonathan, when you brought up The Sopranos, I got it. He’s the antihero. And that’s why I cast a vote in 2016 for him, though I did expect at the time that a lot of the shtick was just shtick and that once elected, if elected, no grown 71-year-old man would comport himself in the way he did.”

It’s bad enough that Hillary Clinton didn’t sweep the “Hillary” vote, but this Hillary actually went with the Tony Soprano candidate instead? And even after Trump didn’t live up to her very high New Jersey gangster standards, she’s still willing to consider him again in 2024? This is too absurd for even Camus.

Hillary goes on:

“What does that portend, though, for a democracy if we have nothing but antiheroes, going forward? That these people, these complicated, murky, ambiguous, morally ambiguous people, are the models? And maybe that’s putting it mildly and gently. What does that portend for our system of government?”

These are certainly compelling questions … that an idiot would ask. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Joe Biden are “antiheroes.” They’re just normal Democrats who also aren’t psychopaths. It’s not great TV, but I prefer to keep my Emmy-winning psychopaths safely inside the TV and not in the White House.

Antiheroes in fiction are defined by their lack of idealism, courage and morality. That’s great for film noir, but it’s not a good look for the commander-in-chief of the world’s most powerful military. The key difference between an antihero and a traditional villain is that the antihero tries, at least initially, to do the right thing, but goes about it in destructive ways. I’ve seen no evidence that Trump has ever possessed positive motivations. He’s a two-dimensional villain.

People often confuse antiheroes with villain protagonists. Henry Hill in Goodfellas is a straight-up villain. He’s somewhat sympathetic and far less sinister than most of the other characters in the film, but he only ever does the right thing when his life literally depends on it and he still regrets it.

Antiheroes tend to feel helpless in a world over which they have no control. Think the narrator in Fight Club. Jonathan likely considers himself the antihero in the show no one would watch. Trump appeals to him as the strongman Tyler Durden of his imagination. He says:

You have to remember why Trump is the choice of millions of people. Trump represents a shock to the system. His supporters don’t hold him to the same ethical standards. He’s the antihero, the Soprano, the Breaking Bad, the guy who does bad things, who is a bad guy but does them on behalf of the people he represents.

The MAGA cult is convinced that Trump gives a damn about them. He doesn’t. Trump does possess the selfishness, cynicism, ignorance and bigotry of most antiheroes, but he isn’t in the same league as Tony Soprano or Walter White. However, I wouldn’t mind if he shares their fate.

Stephen Robinson is the publisher of The Play Typer Guy, a newsletter and podcast about politics and the arts. Follow him @SER1897.

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