Captain America, Donald Trump And The Illusion Of Exceptionalism

For me there has been no greater symbol of American idealism than this character. Not George Washington, not Ben Franklin and not even President Barack H. Obama have inspired my imagination regarding the potential greatness that lies in those truths that the Constitution said were self evident. However, in saying that all men were created equal while lacing itself with the arsenic of institutional racism, said document has proven to be null for many.

Seemingly a forever ago, I wrote a column entitled Why Do Black People Love Captain America, which was basically a love letter to the Sentinel of Liberty that I had grown up adoring. Here’s an excerpt:

“Ideologically, Captain America represents everything that the United States should be, isnt yet, but still can become. He is honest, he is noble, he is inclusive.

He is fair, he is nonjudgmental and he is imperfect in his perfection. This is the reason why many African Americans call Captain America aka Steve Rogers their favorite superhero of all time, despite his Caucasian pedigree, blue eyes and blonde hair. Maybe it’s because, after all this time, Captain America is one of the few superheroes who have always ‘kept it real.'”

That was in 2015.

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In May of 2016, we reported that Captain America was going to be written as an Agent of Hydra from that moment forward. But in the back of my head, I believed it to be yet another publicity stunt a la the death of Superman, Civil War II and other insanely expansive comic book crossover events. However, after catching up on Captain America: Steve Rogers, Captain America: Sam Wilson and the recently released Secret Empire story arc, it has become painfully evident that Marvel is indeed posing that it was not all a dream.

According to this storyline, Cap was always a Hydra Agent and was actually recruited by Madam Hydra as a small child. But things changed following World War II when the Allies, on the verge of defeat by the Axis powers, obtain the cosmic cube and subsequently rewrites reality, thus creating the current timeline.

But he is “awakened” when the Red Skull uses a cube in the guise of a little girl called Kobik to save the elderly Steve Rogers during a one-sided “last stand” against Crossbones during the Pleasant Hill story arc.  However, it is later revealed that Steve actually wasn’t brainwashed by Kobik. He was simply awakened to his true self. Or was he?

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As vomit-inducing as that storyline is, I’ve finally come to grips with it and realize how it’s actually apropos. Because, as much as we all would like to believe in all the fairy tales of American exceptionalism and greatness that we have been inundated with since childhood, this new Captain America is more inline with reality than he has ever been.

The parallels with the prior election cycle and current political environment stick out like a red rose in a prairie full of lilacs. But this flower isn’t sweet and pleasant, but jarring. In Secret Empire, Captain America has killed the Red Skull and is now revealed to the general public as Hydra’s Supreme Commander, with former archenemies Arnim Zola, Baron Zemo, Viper, and virtually his entire rogue’s gallery now serve as his cabinet. Donald Trump’s current cabinet is filled with conspiracy theorists, robber barons and outright racists.

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In the book, his constituents are those who formerly vied to lead Hydra. In real life, it was disenfranchised middle-aged white folks that bolstered Trump, many of whom also voted for Barack Obama. Captain America’s plan evaded detection for so long because he coaxed the other heroes to fight among themselves, not unlike how the Democratic Party was fractured and impudent to stop Trump and currently seems paralyzed by centrists in a tug of war with pseudo-liberals and thus devoid of true progressive action.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, so confident in her “certain” victory in the presidential election, is akin to the Red Skull, who was so confident in what he believed was the total defeat of Steve Rogers that he didn’t realize his creation had actually countered him by playing to constituents that he had ignored or taken for granted. I also compared Madam Clinton to the Red Skull because, unlike Trump, at least we knew exactly what she was capable of and willing to do; i.e. bomb Syria and take a hard stance against Russia.

Like Cap’s dramatic reveal, who would have possibly believed that a publicly admitted white supremacist and conspiracy blogger would have the ear of the president five years ago or that he would be in bed with the Russians, America’s military and political rival for over 70 years! Lastly, Donald J. Trump is indeed synonymous with Captain America at this point. I can recall like it was yesterday how Trump made it cool to be unapologetically rich and gawdy in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.

He mingled with Hip-Hop artists and celebrities, even appearing in movies. At least 20 rappers have mentioned Donald Trump in the lyrics over the past three decades, including Nas, T.I. and Wu-Tang Clan. I can remember many black folks saying how “down” he was for a rich white guy.

Also, not unlike the idealism that helped bolster Captain America’s popularity for over 50 years, Trump’s popularity was maintained by his skin color, gender and the idea that money, and the opulence that comes with it, justifies the means by which it is obtained.

Trump won with a clumsily-crafted illusion that said America was failing, that Americans were losing jobs, that the Affordable Care Act was evil, that the next terrorist attack was days away, and that all of America’s cities were in danger of being overrun by hoards of black and brown “thugs”.

Out of fear, ignorance and straight up racism, he became the so-called leader of the free world. Like how Captain America has overcome worse odds and come back to still be one of America’s most beloved comic book characters, it is my belief that America will eventually drift back toward the middle during the coming political cycles.

However, unlike in Marvel’s pages, we don’t have a sentient cosmic cube to help put the pieces back together after Trump is done.

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