“Do you feel in charge?”
It is with these words that the power shifts from one man to another in the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises, as the terrorist and demagogue Bane rests a hand on the shoulder of corrupt, scheming businessman John Daggett. This is Daggett’s last moment alive, realizing that he staked everything on empowering a brutal man he never controlled. It’s a relevant moment, echoed in the recent power struggle happening within the Republican party.
“Tomorrow you claim what is rightfully yours.” – Bane, to the people of Gotham in The Dark Knight Rises
The majority of Batman characters were created in either 1939 or the 1940s, heroes and villains alike. We have compared Donald Trump to four Batman villains so far, each of which first appeared in the early ’40.s Bane is unlike the rest of these, making his first appearance in 1993.
Bane has two pinnacle stories: the 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises and the comic book storyline Knightfall, both of which feature a Gotham plunged into chaos and a broken Batman.
It is these two stories which will serve as the majority of our comparison between the candidate Donald Trump and the character Bane.
Trump and Bane are both demagogues who inspire a hateful hope in their followers.
Charlie Jane Anders, writing for io9, described Bane as “the one thing that’s worse than the second film’s raving anarchist: a demagogue.”
It is nothing new for a Batman villain to instill fear in the people of Gotham. But Bane does something new: they follow him. He begins with his own fiercely-loyal henchmen and foot soldiers, but soon draws people to him en masse: corrupt businessmen, orphaned boys looking for work in the sewers, and the impoverished Gothamites filled with hope of something new.
He frees the prisoners of Blackgate Prison, echoing the actions of Bane in the comic book storyline Knightfall, the narrative in which Bane frees the villains from Arkham Asylum and subsequently breaks Batman’s back. Once he has taken control of the city by force, Bane announces his grand plans in a speech ripe with false dichotomies, violent promises, and economic populism.
His vision and his promise is that of a Gotham reborn:
We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people. Gotham is yours. None shall interfere. Do as you please. Start by storming Blackgate, and freeing the oppressed! Step forward those who would serve. For an army will be raised. The powerful will be ripped from their decadent nests, and cast out into the cold world that we know and endure. Courts will be convened. Spoils will be enjoyed. Blood will be shed. The police will survive, as they learn to serve true justice. This great city… it will endure. Gotham will survive!
The Gotham under Bane is Dickensian and brutal. Dr. Crane returns as a judge offering two options in a Kafka-esque kangaroo court: exile or death. Of course, in this court, exile is death and death is exile.
The dream of America offered by Trump resembles that of Bane. Violence and economic populism walk hand-in-hand in these promised new worlds.
Bane shuts off Gotham City from the outside world; Trump aspires to do the same with the United States of America.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane seizes control of Gotham and cuts it off from the outside world. No one gets in. No one gets out.
Trump dreams of a similar America: no immigration, no international trade, blockades against refugees, a wall built along the southern border. He is not just a violent populist, but a nativist, promising a protected, enclosed America.
“I will build the greatest wall that you’ve ever seen. And I would never do this myself. But I hope it will be so—actually, it will even look great. I already know what it should look like. You know, the other day, they were saying, I was watching these characters—politicians that are running against me—you can’t get Mexico to pay for the wall! Of course you can. They can’t because they never would even think of it.” – Donald Trump
The notion of a wall built by Mexico resembles the approach Bane takes to sealing off the entrances and exits of Gotham City: he forces the National Guard to prevent anyone from crossing the borders of Gotham, promising he will detonate a nuclear bomb otherwise.
They both say what is otherwise left unsaid.
“He tells it like it is,” has becoming a running defense of Donald Trump. One cartoon (whose artist and origins I have not been able to determine) began circulating in January in which we see a couple watching Satan delivering a speech on their television. They comment: “…but he’s not afraid to say what people are thinking.”
Bane says things that would otherwise be unsaid or unknown. He reveals that the narrative spun by Commissioner Gordon regarding Harvey Dent and Batman was a lie. He declares himself “necessary evil.”
He arrives eight years later, rising to power by pitting people against one another.
The Bane story line in The Dark Knight Rises revisits similar themes to the Joker’s rise to power in The Dark Knight: a two-way conflict exists, and one party chooses an outsider to tip the scales. As mentioned above, John Daggett finances Bane and ultimately cedes control to him in The Dark Knight Rises. In the 2016 election, the Republican establishment is losing control of its party to Donald Trump.
Trump’s candidacy comes eight years after Obama’s candidacy, just as there is an eight year gap between the second and third films in The Dark Knight trilogy. Eight years years after Batman’s retirement. Eight years between the end of the Bush era and whatever era follows that of Obama.
Over the last eight years, we have seen the Republicans define themselves similarly, seeking identity not from their own stances but from opposing those of President Obama. They’ve defined themselves this way for eight years, compromising previous stances when politically advantageous and stoking hysteria, from lightbulbs to education to tax cuts.
The Republicans and the Democrats are the existing institutions of Gotham City; Donald Trump is Bane, attacking everything.
Like the Joker’s constant pivots in identity and opinion, the Republicans have abandoned previous beliefs if it continues their fight against Obama. As discussed in a previous, related blog post, the Republicans have reduced themselves to a party without ethos, their only consistent stance being standing against what Obama stands for.
The only pre-existing villain to whom Bane shows any respect in The Dark Knight Rises is Ra’s al Ghul, although it’s mentioned that the two did not work together and that al Ghul ex-communicated Bane from the League of Shadows. This may remind one of Trump’s own casual, inconsistent admiration for Ronald Reagan.
No one and nothing is sacred for Bane of The Dark Knight Rises. He tears up a photo of Harvey Dent, manipulates Selina Kyle, kills John Daggett, breaks Batman’s back, mocks Commissioner Gordon. His violent populist regime is seen in action when he stands by and watches a previous ally, Executive Vice President of Daggett Industries Phillip Stryver, sentenced to death.
In Knightfall, Bane operates similarly, releasing the insane from Arkham Asylum only for the sake of creating chaos and manipulating them against Batman. The Bane of Knightfall shows no loyalty to these villains, having not even heard of the Joker. He shows no respect for these established villains, breaking the arms of Killer Croc, manipulating the Mad Hatter and Scarecrow and the Joker and the Riddler, killing a D-list villain named Film Freak.
Trump similarly holds no loyalty to any Republicans or Democrats. He has been perfectly willing and happy to make an enemy of anyone and everyone. He has poor words not only for Obama but for the Bushes, for the Republican establishment, for Glen Beck and Fox News and Karl Rove.
The only allies he has are those willing to debase themselves into endorsing him, or the waves of enemies. He has henchmen like the fallen Chris Christie and the weak Ben Carson, and waves of violent, irrational supporters. You cannot be a Trump ally and a Trump equal at the same time.
His eyes are on “the ultimate prize.”
“Gotham–the ultimate prize. You have it. I want it.” – Bane, to Batman, in Knightfall
For Bane, it is Gotham City. For Trump, it is the presidency. Both prizes require a ruthless fight and the unseating of many enemies.
How do Bane and Trump differ?
There is one ostensible difference between these two demagogues. When Bane promises to “return control of this city to the people,” he is lying. We know this, as he tells Bruce Wayne in secret that he “will destroy Gotham.”
“I am the League of Shadows, and I am here to fulfill Ra’s al Ghul’s destiny.” – Bane, to Batman, in The Dark Knight Rises
It’s unlikely that Trump whispers to Christie and Carson and his other henchmen that he is “necessary evil” and that he is America’s reckoning. Although that does seem to be the message in terms of his role within the Republican party. Trump’s plan for the Republican Party seems to match Bane’s plan for Gotham, which echoes that of Ra’s al Ghul before him: it must be destroyed in order to be saved.
Trump Resemblance Rating: 9 out of 10
Bane’s menace comes from his strength, his intelligence, his ability to inflict pain. His abilities are unprecedented. In The Dark Knight Rises, he and his mercenaries take control of the entirety of the Wayne Enterprises armory. In Knightfall, his weapons cache is described as “an ordinance inventory for World War Three.” Trump promises a military “so big and so strong and so great” that “nobody’s going to mess with us.”
Trump may be a devilish clown, but he is ultimately more than the Joker. The Joker’s identity requires an existence of a Batman, a dark knight to define himself against. Trump, like Bane, rises up against all parties preceding him.
There is one remaining distinction between the two men: Bane is less vulgar and has better taste than Donald Trump, which is ultimately what prevents this from being a 10 out of 10 rating. One could also argue that Bane is more disciplined than Trump, often moving slowly and deliberately in this methodical plans.
“Make America great again.” – Donald Trump
“Experience the next era of western civilization.” – Bane
But do not lose hope. Something to remember about Bane is that, in the long term, he never succeeds.
Up next: Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? The Conclusion
Interested in reading fiction by the author of this blog post? Check out Books by D. F. Lovett
Update: Bane = Trump confirmed
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) January 20, 2017