Ominous Parallels: a Comparative Analysis of Donald Trump & Norman Osborn
“We’re going to make America Great Again!” – Donald Trump
” I want to weed out the malcontents. I want an army of men and women ready to take back the world. And those who are not ready will be replaced….I want you to take this Starktech Golden Goose of a Helicarrier and I want it scrapped .. You use my designs. You put them into full production. I want this red and gold out of sight” – Norman Osborn
In 2012 I was fortunate to contribute to Blackwell‘s pop culture and philosophy volume on the Avengers. My essay compared the controversial rise to power of Norman Osborn to an arrogant Athenian Noble named Alcibiades in the Socratic Dialogues. Much like Alcibiades, Osborne, was obsessed with accumulating state power for his own benefit, conflating his need for power with national security. To borrow Socrates’ leaky jar analogy, the egos of both men were markedly fragile, causing both to seek an endless abatement of their superficial desires and validations. As a Canadian I have been following the 2016 presidential election quite closely. And I am always given pause when I find instances of art imitating life or vice versa. More and more I am realizing that the current politic drama playing out with my neighbor to the south, seems very much like a landmark story from Marvel called Dark Reign.
As of this writing Donald Trump has been formally nominated as the candidate for the Republican Party. This has been achieved despite a campaign with thinly veiled overtones of bigotry, threat exaggeration, Ad hominem argumentation, insecure bluster and unabashed demagoguery. During Marvel’s Dark Reign, we a saw a similarly unlikely rise to power, one that put the “bad guys” firmly in power, and had most of our heroes on the run. It’s important to note that the Dark Reign came about off the heels of alien invasion, qualifying as a threat on existential terms. Though this threat was credible and resulted in the breakdown of many of the Earths’ protective institutions (i.e. SHIELD, SWORD, the Avengers) the fact still remains that this threat was politicized and weaponized to the benefit of the new established political and security order. Through five points of comparison I would like show some striking similarities between Mr. Trump and Norman Osborn, in order to show why these similarities should give both Americans and the rest of the world pause. Although I enjoyed the subversive Dark Reign event and the political commentary that came with it, seeing life imitate art so closely in this political election has been a bit disturbing.
Both Norman Osborn and Donald Trump have demonstrated an incredible knack for showmanship. During his stint as the director of the Thunderbolts, a rehabilitating initiative that employed super villains for heroic tasks, Norman slowly and calculatedly fashioned an image of himself as a trustworthy civil servant. This was despite his monstrous alternate persona the Green Goblin and his dubious intentions. This showmanship culminated in his strategically timed execution of the Skrull Queen during the final throes of the Skrull invasion, an act taking place before many cameras and ultimately cementing his place at the head of national security.
Similarly Donald Trump’s thirst for fame has become a central pillar of his career. Trump slowly evolved from the real estate mogul symbolic of the 80s to reality personality we know today. That Mr. Trump chose to announce his political ambitions, through his media ventures was of no surprise, as he became quite adept at using any platform afforded to him to further his own goals. In a short span of a few years the currency of Trump’s rise slowly transitioned from real estate to notoriety. What I find so fascinating about Donald Trump’s untrammeled ambition in the mediascape appears to be sourced from a deep lack of confidence. A classic “Trumpian” mindset seems to be the following whatever promotes or aggrandizes me is trustworthy and good, and whatever criticizes or challenges me is flawed, envious and bad. His recent comments on SNL indicates this, a show he was happy to host recently, which is now unfunny in his eyes and in need of retirement now that he is being parodied. Similarly after Osborn’s rise to power, any degree of opposition or challenges to his order was met with draconian authority. Both Osborn and Trump suffer from a deep insecurity which brings me to the next point of comparison.
Trump brought the election to new lows, using his newfound political soapbox to defend not only his vaunted wealth, and business acumen but also his physical attributes like the size of his genitalia, fingers, and the authenticity of his hair. This isn’t to say that people shouldn’t have insecurities, however his choice to use his political campaign to chronically redress this that is remarkable. Most politicians can cultivate a degree of thick skinned resolve that allows them to maintain a presence and agenda consistent with campaign objectives. Trump has routinely been veered off course, falling for bait that would typically fall beneath the attention, and stature of your general presidential candidate.
Norman Osborn also shared this personality flaw. In my essay I argued that Norman’s enmity towards the newly outlawed super heroic community, stemmed from his insecurity about independent and self-derived sources of power. Instead of working with those who were seemingly on the other side, Norman worked tirelessly to oppress and subdue them. For Norman this may have been tied to his fragile ego, and dove tailed into his exaggerated view of the world’s threats. The mini-series Dark X-Men explicitly touches on Norman’s inner psyche where super powered opponents are concerned. It explains a lot of his heavy handedness throughout his tenure as the head of national security.
Both Donald and Norman exhibit an exaggerated understanding of national security threats, however where Osborn’s stems from his insecurity and ego issues, Trump’s is a more opportunistic variety, rooted more in his showmanship. At the end of the Dark Avengers title we get a final panel of an incarcerated Norman, meandering over all the threats that may take place without his oversight. It’s a telling insight into his fragile mind, a plausible set of scenarios, but obtuse and over the top. This isn’t to say that Norman’s assessment of things was never opportunistic (See blurring personal vendetta with national security) it was just that his reaction to super powered opposition (actual and imagined) overwhelmed him and perhaps fed (and spurred) his Goblin persona.
Donald Trumps’ variety of threat exaggeration, is rooted in bigotry but more heavily on spreading doubt and lack of confidence in the established governmental order. I say this highlighting Trump’s lack of understanding of geopolitical issues (see vague platitudes and agenda) and his complete dearth of viable or coherent alternatives. Trump knows people are scared and he has seized on that fear to bolster support for his campaign.
There are striking parallels here with what took place during the Dark Reign. Both Skrulls and the specter of ISIS are existential threats, both of which can appear as anyone (The Skrulls being shapeshifting aliens) and infiltrate borders and institutions. Both also use religious ideology for a mission of conquest. Although there were peaceful Skrulls living on earth before and after the invasion, and peaceful Muslims who are not radically indoctrinated, conflations are made in both cases. Where Trump has used this to deride immigration policy and pander to the ignorance and fear of his base, Norman used this to take out a clear and apparent threat cement his place as a trusted government official, while eventually moving on to other threats by defining them in a sense.
Both Donald and Norman true to their sizeable egos, need to see their names on everything. During his Dark Reign, Norman usurped and subverted many franchises and established institutions. Norman overhauls S.H.I.E.L.D. replaces it with his H.A.M.M.E.R. and creates “Dark” versions of the Avengers and X-Men staffing them with controversial villians. The overcompensation here is noteworthy and seems to be subtle taunt to the old heroic guard he was once answerable to.
One doesn’t have to look far to find a litany failed Trump ventures, whether Trump Air, Trump University or his casinos. Trump’s past business ventures, and past grievances attached to them show one who is not just hungry to see his name everywhere, but someone with dubious ethics and integrity. The egos of both men in this regard are strikingly similar here.
Vague Platitudes & Agenda
A noteworthy observation about Norman’s agency H.A.M.M.E.R. is that it was never quite revealed what his agency stood for. I argued in my essay that Norman’s vagueness here was deliberate as he wanted an agency that would latch on to the current zeitgeist of insecurity and lack of confidence in the previous regime’s protective institutions.
This is the main strategy of the Trump campaign.
What I find so striking about Trump is his complete lack of alternatives and general understanding of geopolitics that we’d expect of any person running for the office of POTUS. Another tried and true “Trump-ism” is documented here, when pressed about legitimate foreign policy concern Trump tacit reaction is to deflect and distract, a disturbing behavior for one seeking such a high and important office. Although unprincipled Norman had some concrete objective and policy, Trump apparently has none and this should give everyone pause.
Blurring Personal Vendetta with National Security
“A man that you can bait with a tweet, is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” – Hillary Clinton
The Dark Reign mini series called “The List” documented Osborne’s draconian tour of the MU, taking out his perceived threats. If my memory serves me well this takes place soon after two of his inner cabal members Emma Frost and Namor, publicly defect from his regime. What follows is a calculated yet somewhat petty show of force. He creates a biological WMD to slaughter Atlantean terror cells, among other affronts to the newly downtrodden heroes of MU. I was reminded of the list Donald claimed very brazenly claiming he would arrange “special prosecution” in order to prosecute Hillary Clinton. Given the rest of the characteristics I used for comparison between the two men, it should come as no surprise that their personal grievances impinge so much on their handling (or approach towards) National Security.
In my analysis of Norman Osborn I wrote that the moral of the Dark Reign was to show the consequences of what happens when people who are unfit for power get it. Osborn’s Dark Reign ended during the Siege crisis, an event that saw a mentally weak Osborn goaded into sparking an international incident by unilaterally attacking Asgard. This wasn’t just done as a show of strength, but to prove to the world that Osborn was not to be trifled with. It was a disastrous outcome that ironically put the world in danger, in the name of protecting it.
Although the prospect of a Trump Presidency remains to be seen, I argue that the consequences of such an outcome would similar if not more dramatic. Sam Alexander’s chastisement of the fictional POTUS, (after the Dark Reign) would also speak the system and individuals that paved the way for Trump’s rise should he secure the presidency.
“….You sacrificed honor for expediency. You traded intent for quick action. You were wrong and we all suffered for it”