This is the fourth installment of an ongoing investigation into which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the beginning here.
The similarities between Trump and the Joker have been discussed here before, in response to an editorial by The Economist. But that was before the current series of “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most,” and was limited to the Joker as depicted by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
Let’s take a step further and evaluate how much the Donald and the Joker (in all his various depictions) really resemble one another.
To begin with, both men have remarkably poor taste.
In what they say, in what they wear, in how they look and present themselves: these are crude, tasteless men.
The Joker drives a car with his own face on it, while Trump will brand anything with his own name. Both prove that taste does not accompany wealth.
He uses chaos and anarchy as a weapon, manipulating the weak and confused.
Shouting, punching, screaming, hysteria, name-calling: these are regular trappings at any assembly of Trump fans. Above this chaos stands Trump, fanning the flames and upping the ante.
It is a key element of Trump’s campaign and rhetoric. He brands himself as “anti-establishment.” Consider what the Joker says about establishment and order in The Dark Knight:
Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!
Like the criminals in The Dark Knight who turn to the Joker to save them, Trump’s voters are at “the point of desperation.” They are the unemployed, the angry, the tired and the scared. As Alfred Pennyworth says, “in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn’t fully understand.”
“It’s a clear choice – me or Pettit. Vote or die. Cancer or tuberculosis.” – the Joker in Detective Comics #737
The Joker does not only do this to the mob bosses. He manipulates innocent people into winless scenarios, including the option to either die or to kill. He manipulates his fellow costumed villains in countless narratives. He manipulates Harvey Dent in various media, one example being when he gives him the above speech about upsetting “the established order.”
Both men are constantly changing the plan as they see fit, remaining unpredictable and adaptable.
There is something important to remember about both Trump and the Joker: they may seem like they don’t have a plan, but they do, and it’s a dangerous one. But that plan can change and evolve and escalate, both in method and endgame.
“His modus operandi changes with the wind… and it’s been windy in Gotham City.” – Batman, describing the Joker in Detective Comics #1 of the New 52
They always have a way to win, a version of winning, an “ace in the hole.”
They thrive when the conflict goes in three directions.
It is not enough for either Trump or the Joker to wage a war against a single enemy. Both are always at the center of intense three-way conflict. For Trump, it is the shifting battle between “the Republican establishment,” the Democrats, and his own circle of fans. For the Joker, his three-way conflict is Joker vs. The Mob vs. Batman and Joker vs. Batman vs. Harvey Dent. In all scenarios, we have him up against two forms of establishment, seeking his own third way.
“He’s not a war hero. He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.” – Donald Trump, regarding John McCain.
When it does work, it’s because he has divided things enough to create a power vacuum, rising to winning status with a plurality.
They use cheap gimmicks and repeated calling cards.
Trump likes branding things with his own name, just as the Joker can never help but leave his card at the scene of a crime.
Trump would hate for you to consume something without knowing he is the owner; the Joker would hate for a crime to go unattributed to him.
Both the Donald and the Joker represent the id of their respective universes.
Trump is the ugly and angry face of America, raging against their fears and their loss of control. He is like the Joker who, as Batman says, wants to “prove that deep down everyone is as ugly as [the Joker].”
“…Introduce honesty to the White House! Write letters in dead languages to people you’ve never met! Paint filthy words on the foreheads of children! Burn your credit cards and wear high heels! Asylum doors stand open! Fill the suburbs with murder and rape! Divine madness! Let there be ecstasy, ecstasy in the streets! Laugh and the world laughs with you!” – the Joker in Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.
People find this either appealing or appalling about Trump, and perhaps it’s why the Joker has been such a successful and famous villain for 75 years. They represent something deep and disturbing about humanity.
And then there is the nature of their shifting identities…
Donald Trump is constantly adapting, evolving, twisting from one incarnation to another. As The Economist says in their March 5th 2016 issue, he “changes his sales pitch as easily as his socks.” Or as the Washington Post put it in an article last August, “Trump seems to be making up his own platform as he goes along.”
Perhaps this flexibility in his own identity is the most Joker-esque of all his qualities. A psychiatrist in Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth describes the Joker thus:
…some days he’s a mischievous clown, others a psychopathic killer. He has no real personality. He creates himself each day. He sees himself as the Lord of Misrule, and the world as a theater of the absurd.
Joker’s origin story, unlike his counterparts throughout the comic book world, is always changing, ever ethereal and undefined. In Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke, he famously says: “Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another … If I’m going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice.”
Trump’s own past – and present – is similarly multiple choice. He cannot determine exactly who or what he is. He presents himself as “self-made,” despite million dollar loans (from his father) and an enormous inheritance. He’s been both pro-choice and anti-abortion, a Republican and a Democrat, both the aristocracy and the underdog. He’ll shout financial conservatism and economic populism simultaneously, often taking liberal approach to economic policies, without being clear on whether this is what he truly believes or if he isn’t sure what being conservative entails.
How do Trump and the Joker differ?
While the above may be compelling, the two men do differ in some ways.
The Joker does not claim to promise a greater good.
Unlike Trump, the Joker makes no claims to dreams of a better tomorrow. Aside from the occasional mob bosses or fellow criminals, he does not attempt to pass himself off as any kind of savior.
Batman villains may occasionally be demagogues, but the Joker is not one of them.
The Joker doesn’t see the appeal in money.
“I’m a man of simple tastes,” he says. Trump might have obscene, grotesque taste, but you wouldn’t call them simple.
Trump loves money. The Joker burns piles of it.
Trump Resemblance Rating: 8 out of 10.
He’s a clown. A frightening, dangerous, disturbing clown. But he’s also intelligent and capable of great feats of manipulation. And, oddly enough, both Trump and Joker can be very funny, with shocking abilities of comic improvisation, even when you hate what they represents.
Like the Joker’s constant pivots in identity and opinion, the Republicans have abandoned previous beliefs if it continues their fight against Obama. This is not to say that Obama is Batman, but simply that the Republicans have defined themselves in the style of Batman’s rogues gallery.
There is a disturbing scene in The Dark Knight that is becoming increasingly relevant. The Joker wires two boats with explosives. One boat contains criminals and their prison guards, the other “innocent” people. Each boat has the detonator to the other boat’s explosives.
They are in a situation with no good choice. To kill, or to die. And it appears that Trump is trapping the Republicans in a similarly hopeless scenario. Whether he becomes the nominee or not, they have already lost.
But what will the endgame be? We can be certain that it will come with a cost. As the Joker says in The Dark Knight:
“If you’re good at something, never do it for free.”
But, as we will see in the next installment in this series, there is one other reason that Trump may not resemble the Joker most. Perhaps it is a different villain who he most resembles…