How accurate is The Economist in comparing Donald Trump to The Joker?

This is one of many articles on this site comparing the current state of American politics to the world of Batman. Read more here, or buy D. F. Lovett’s debut novel here for only $4.99.

In an editorial published on 7/23/15, The Economist likened Donald Trump to Heath Ledger’s Joker:

Mr Trump’s lust for attention, combined with his fortune, seemed to be all the explanation needed. “Do I look like I have a plan?” says the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. “I’m a dog chasing cars. I don’t know what I’d do if I caught it”. Mr Trump’s havoc-spreading run seemed to share this improvisational spirit.

They go on to argue that yes, Trump has a plan, and yes, there’s a good chance that he is a dog who has caught a car and knows what to do with it: “sell it for profit.”

While The Economist moves away from the Batman metaphors and focuses on the politics, it’s worth dwelling for a moment on this comparison. This is not to say that Donald Trump is a villain. But he is one third of a complicated, shifting cinematic circus of three-directional conflict.

The scene in which The Joker gives his famous "plan" speech.
The scene in which The Joker gives his famous “plan” speech.


The Dark Knight is a film of three-way conflict. All great films are. Consider Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL v. Humanity v. The Monolith) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (Nazis v. Indy v. The Ark) or The Departed (Jack v. Leo v. Damon). In The Dark Knight, our initial conflict is that The Joker is stealing money from the mob and cornering them, drawing Batman into the fight. Batman goes after the mob, thinking The Joker can wait. “One man or the mob…”

As the film evolves, the mob fades into the background and the conflict becomes The Joker v. Gotham v. Batman, followed by The Joker v. Dent v. Batman. This is what keeps it so entertaining, and how the film manages to ask questions that are both relevant and thought-provoking.

And so it is with Trump. At the moment, his actions parallel The Joker at the beginning of The Dark Knight. When The Joker enters the mob boss meeting (as seen below), he is Trump entering the race. He gradually begins either taking down his enemies in the mob or turning them into allies,  becoming the top criminal in Gotham. From there, he has things entirely set for his plans.

This is when it’s important to note that, when The Joker said he doesn’t have a plan, he was lying. He’s absolutely not a dog chasing cars. The Joker not only always has a plan, he always has more than one. His plans are dynamic, ever-changing and ever-evolving.

Trump is at the top of the GOP pile, at the moment. He can choose what he wants to do from here, and his choice boils down to one of two things: become a third party candidate or steer the Republicans in the direction he wants them to go. The Joker kept this same choice open until he found himself out of options, which is why he had “an ace in the hole: Harvey.” Trump’s equivalent of Harvey Dent is the option to run as a third party if he gets squeezed out of the race.


All of this assumes, of course, that the first option is not realistic. The main option, the illusion of what is being attempted: Donald Trump becoming president. The equivalent of this would be what The Joker declares as his original mission: “It’s simple. We kill the Batman.” Of course, as the film goes on, killing the Batman is the absolute last thing that The Joker wants. They need one another.

This is why Trump is such a fascinating piece of entertainment. His presidential run cannot be ignored. He has one plan after another after another. He can change his mission and his target and still reach a form of success. And he’s also dangerously untouchable through his complete indifference toward criticism. As The Joker tells Batman, “you have nothing, nothing to threaten me with.”

To summarize: Trump can either:

  • a) run for president as the Republican candidate (Joker equivalent: “We kill the Batman”),
  • b) use his amassed power to see the Republican candidate and party he wants (Joker equivalent: taking over the mob, sending the city into chaos, becoming the top criminal)
  • c) run as a third party candidate (Joker equivalent: get caught by Batman, but have Harvey Dent’s fall as a backup plan)

And what makes any presidential primary so fascinating, but this one in particular, is that it’s not just Blue vs. Red. There is conflict going in all directions. Trump vs. Megyn Kelly, Trump vs. Glen Beck, Trump vs. the Republican Party Establishment, Trump vs. Clinton, and meanwhile you have Republicans vs. Obama and Clinton vs. Obama and Sanders vs. Billionaires and on and on. Involved in every conflict, we have Trump. Always there. Affecting everything. We cannot look away from the show in front of us, no matter how bizarre it becomes.

As Alfred says about The Joker in the clip above, Trump “can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”  He is the buyer and the bully. He’s the one with the negotiating power. This is not to say that Donald Trump just wants to see the world burn. What I am saying is that he should not be underestimated. We do not want to be the people described by Alfred:

You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.

The question is not so much whether Trump can stay in the spotlight, but what he chooses to do with it.

Of course, the final question is how much Donald Trump and his fellow billionaire Bruce Wayne resemble one another. But that’s a question for another day.

For more on this subject, see Politics & Batman.


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