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Captain Make America Great Again: A Superhero Movie for the Time of Trump

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Flickr user Geoffroy Groult

The battle over the role of government in providing security and regulating the activities of its citizens isn’t just playing out on the presidential campaign trail. This weekend, in case you didn’t notice, it came to your local multiplex in the form of Captain America: Civil War.

In the film (warning: spoilers follow), Steve Rogers, the titular Captain America, becomes the de facto leader of a subgroup of the Avengers who take a go-it-alone approach to defending the United States, declaring that they shouldn’t have to submit to the authority of international or even national bodies, because those institutions are prone to fecklessness and corruption.

It is, I would venture to say, the perfect superhero movie for the time of Trump, an era in which the political discourse is dominated by a man who expresses contempt for international restrictions on military activity, argues that the electoral process is “rigged” and openly brags of buying off politicians.  

By this I don’t mean to suggest that Captain America and his band of followers are Trumpian in their politics (or even politically motivated at all). But they share an animating belief that political leaders are weak and unwilling to understand what needs to be done to protect the world. It follows, then, that a strong man with a group of followers (and in the case of the Avengers, that group is literally superhuman) should be allowed to operate as they see fit to defend their idea of the national interest.  

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As Alyssa Rosenberg points out in the Washington Post, Captain America: Civil War doesn’t bother to explore a compromise to United Nations oversight – that the Avengers submit instead to the authority of the United States government. Instead, the film buys into the same us-vs.-them dichotomy that characterizes current American politics. (You’re even supposed to choose on social media between #Team Cap and #TeamIronMan.)

The irony, of course, is that the leader of the go-it-alone faction is Captain America. As one who came of age in World War II, he, of all people, should know the dangers of allowing any powerful person or group to operate with little democratic oversight. But his experience upon waking up after decades in a frozen slumber -- detailed in a previous movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, has soured Cap on 21st century politics. So not only does he not see the dangers of his approach, but he accuses Tony Stark, a.k.a. Iron Man, of moral failure for even considering to consent to the will of the people.

That doesn’t make him Donald Trump. But I’m guessing Trump is #TeamCap.

Photo: Flickr user Geoffroy Groult

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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