I’ve been jokingly calling Ted Cruz a Batman villain for a while now because the comparison seemed to fit so well, right down to the features of his face: the taut planes of his cheeks, the vulpine peaks of his ears, the hollowness in his eyes that makes him look like a shark even as he smiles. In recent weeks, however, it has become clear that Donald Trump is the true Batman villain in this race, and not just because he won the GOP nomination by breaking all the furniture in the room, or because he dog-whistled his supporters to assassinate Hillary Clinton.
Consider Trump in the context of the old, terrible ’60s Batman TV series. Here’s a villain with gross orange facepaint, a truly stupid live-ocelot-on-his-head hairdo, an astonishingly outsized sense of self-importance. It would not at all surprise me if, not long from now, Trump went off on one of his blundering rants and the cartooned words BAM! PHIZ! GOMP! TWEE! started appearing after he drops his silly little verbal bricks. Trump and Adam West would have made boon foes in the age of bell bottoms and Nixon.
He’s even got the better name for the gig: Trump! What can you do with “Cruz,” really? He’ll “Cruz to world domination”? That sucks. When Evil Villain Donald pulls off one of his stunts, at least he can say, “You’ve been Trumped! Mwah ha ha ha ha!” Hell, even The Penguin had a catchphrase of sorts. Kind of a necessary ingredient, yeah? There is also this: Cruz has a plan. Granted, it’s Dominionist right-wing gibberish, but it’s a plan. Trump, on the other hand, has no plan. Like, at all. He’s traffic on I-95 at quitting time, all mad speed and no pattern and lots of broken glass.
I’m a fan of Christopher Nolan’s rendition of the Batman film franchise, and especially of Heath Ledger’s astonishing turn as The Joker in The Dark Knight. The films themselves are the absence of camp, deadly serious, as if Jason Bourne put on a bat suit, and Ledger’s Joker is the stuff of legend. In Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne’s stalwart sidekick Alfred tried to explain The Joker to his master. “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical like money,” he said. “They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.” Later, when The Joker ignites a towering pile of gas-soaked cash with a lit cigar after killing half the people in the room, he says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about sending a message. Everything burns.”
That’s Trump to the letter, sitting in the dark with his smartphone, the glow of the screen illuminating the diabolical look on his face as he tries to figure out how to wreck stuff in 140 characters or less. His aides should have snapped his thumbs off a year ago. He doesn’t want to be president. He wants to nuke Europe, sell missiles to Japan, purge Muslims and Mexicans from the land and make women respect and adore him because these aren’t tiny hands so stop saying that — but he doesn’t want to be president.
This isn’t a campaign. It’s just another reality TV show titled “Everything Burns.” Note well, Hollywood: Reality TV and Donald Trump are what happens when you don’t pay your writers.
So if Trump doesn’t want to be president, what happens if he makes it to the White House? As always, the genuinely important part is The Crew. The candidate for president doesn’t govern; the hundreds of people who slither through the door after victory do that. George W. Bush didn’t wreck the country; he hired the people who did. Donald Trump has been peddling this preposterous billionaire-populist nonsense since his campaign began, but the announcement of his economic team tells you all you need to know about where he’s coming from:
The advisory team of 13 men — and no women — reflects a wide range of people from the higher echelons of American finance, including hedge fund managers and real estate investors. The median net worth of Trump’s official economic advisers appears to be at least several hundred million dollars. Trump’s outsider crew at times conflicts with his message of economic populism. He has painted Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as the candidate of Wall Street, but his team is filled with hedge fund managers, bankers and real estate speculators.
Trump’s pitch has always been, in part, what you might call trickle-down expertise: The most successful members of the business worlds, the titans of the 1 percent, know what it takes to save to save the middle class. The advisers reinforce that idea. Trump also takes economic advice from several people who aren’t listed in Friday’s release, including Arthur Laffer, the former Reagan economist who is the godfather of supply-side economics; Larry Kudlow, a financial commentator who is a Laffer disciple; and Trump’s own children, including his daughter Ivanka.
Laffer, Kudlow and Ivanka. Those three could wreck an economy if they were 10 miles down a mineshaft with no candles and a bad map. Trump himself delivered on Monday one of the most vapid economic speeches in human history. It was like watching a rat terrier try to do math inside an activated blender, and this is the guy who is going to hand-pick a national economics team? He should stick to the stuff in his wheelhouse: Yelling at houseplants about how hot it is in here, making tiny little circles with his thumb and forefinger, and making promises his hairdo can’t keep.
Yeah, Gotham is in pretty deep trouble. Everything does burn when enough heat is applied. We could light the Bat Signal, I guess, but no one is coming to the rescue. This mess we have to clean up ourselves.