The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump

Toward the finale of the 2016 election, Mike Huckabee took to Fox News to give a defense of Donald Trump that I’ve been mulling over in my head ever since.

I see Trump as Capt Quint (Robert Shaw) on the boat, Orca, in the movie “Jaws.” He’s salty, drunk and says incorrect things. He spits in your face. BUT… He’s gonna save your rear. You may not like what he says but, in the end, you and your family survive.

“Vote for the fishing boat captain,” Huckabee said. “Not the shark.”

While ineloquent and muddled, Huckabee’s defense gave a great insight into why people were lining up behind Donald Trump. They saw him as a vulgar presence, but he was their vulgar presence against the greater dangers.

If Huckabee were more versed in film, literature, or television, he would have realized that there are a thousand better metaphors for who Donald Trump is: he is, in the eyes of his followers, the anti-hero of the True America.  

A different defense of Trump comes to mind, one that his followers would surely cite, had they seen the first season of True Detective:

Marty: Do you wonder ever if you’re a bad man?

Rust: No, I don’t wonder, Marty. The world needs bad men. We keep the other bad men from the door.

“The world needs bad men,” from True Detective‘s third episode.

The world needs bad men. It seems like a missed opportunity that Trump’s campaign didn’t snap that up as their slogan. One can imagine Rust and Marty’s conversation rolling over footage of Donald Trump mocking Serge Kovaleski, or Rust’s defense of bad men and musings on man’s inability to love intercut with I moved on her like a bitch and you can do anything.

This is not a specific argument I’ve seen much of, unsurprisingly. It’s easy to assume that True Detective didn’t have a major following among Trump voters, particularly when one  compares one recent study on regional television viewership demographics with the breakdown of voter demographics in the 2016 election.

However, Huckabee isn’t the only pundit to notice that Trump’s appeal is not being a traditional hero, but being the scoundrel on your side.

If you don’t recall, this is the character to whom Huckabee compares Trump.

You can take a look at some of the headlines to see that this has been thoroughly explored, including a) Trump and the rise of the anti-hero from CNN b) President Trump: America chooses an anti-hero from Yahoo c) The Anti-Hero Candidacy of Donald Trump from Huffington Post d) The Donald Rises: Why Republicans Want an Anti-Hero in 2016 from The Week ad e) Trump’s success as an antihero relies on the power of reality TV and drama over reality from The LA Times

At this point, I have to point out that there is nothing unique in saying that Trump is an anti-hero and our obsession with anti-heroes in our media and film is what got Trump elected. As evidenced by the articles I just listed, this has been exhaustively explored. 

What I do have is another layer to add to this: the rise of the anti-hero in our media came from the America that emerged during the presidency of George W. Bush. 

During the Bush era, America found itself in the role of the anti-hero. This is what propelled the flawed and gritty protagonist into our film and television. This is what prompted the wave of dark and gritty reboots that are still grinding today.

Art imitates life imitates art. Politics causes pop culture causes politics. Bush was our cowboy hero who became tainted, tattered, and gritty as our wars became unwinnable and our morals murky. Obama was our shining hero, our knight in shining armor, our warrior who could not be everything he wanted to be.

And now there is Trump: the gritty anti-hero, the protagonist who rapes, the populist king. He is the danger.

But, before I move forward with this argument, it’s important to pause and discuss what we talk about when we talk about anti-heroes. Continue reading “The World Needs Bad Men: How the Bush Era Caused the Anti-Hero Wave that Gave Rise to Trump”


The Real Ending of Breaking Bad: No One is Okay

With Saul Goodman once again gracing our televisions as of last week, it’s a good time to reflect on Breaking Bad. Specifically, on its final episode, the polarizing finale entitled “Felina.”

Of course, many people loved the finale. But, on the other hand, there were those who found no satisfaction in it. Or, more accurately, they found no satisfaction  because they found it to be too satisfying,  too easy for both Walter White and his audience.

A moment from Walter White’s final return home.

Unrealistic, people said. Too happy and too smooth, they said. The consensus of many seemed to be that the last episode had abandoned the realism of the show in favor of a (relatively) happy ending.

In The New Yorker, Emily Nussbaum called it “closure-happy” in and said it felt like  we were watching “a dying fantasy on the part of Walter White.”The Wrap called it “too perfect.” Maureen Ryan of the Huffington Post said it felt like “mopping-up exercises.”  A common argument floated around that the fourteenth episode of the final season, “Ozymandias,” should have been the end. Or that the penultimate episode, “Granite State,” with its ambiguous cliffhanger ending, should’ve been it. One redditor suggested that “Ozymandias” was the actual ending, and various bloggers argued that yes, the entire final episode was a dying fantasy, a cancer dream in the mind of Walter White.

I do agree with one aspect of this criticism: we should not view the ending as being the true ending. But I think that there is a third way to view the finale. No, it wasn’t a dying fantasy of everyone’s favorite cancer-ridden drug dealer anti-hero. But no, it wasn’t “closure-happy” or “too easy” either. Continue reading “The Real Ending of Breaking Bad: No One is Okay”