Tom Friedman recently published a column calling for a “team of rivals,” arguing that the Democratic nominee—at that pre-Super Tuesday point, it appeared, either Bernie or Bloomberg—should announce in advance the cabinet he would assemble as president. The purpose would be to signal party and national unity and form a formidable phalanx to ready for the coming assault of the vulgarian hordes. Some of his suggestions (Romney as Secretary of Commerce, for instance) were more sensible than others (ahem, Bernie as Secretary of Treasury…). But Friedman’s intuition was sound.
I’ll do him one better.
There is a scene I have not been able to banish from my mind these many months: In the climactic battle between the Avengers and Thanos in the final film of the series, Captain America stands, shield broken and body battered, his comrades Thor and Iron Man down for the count, his team trapped underground, the rest of his allies long-since “disappeared” by Thanos’ cosmic snap, and turns to his enemy, his face leaden with exhaustion and despair yet defiant before defeat.
And then the cavalry arrives.
This is the comic book movie equivalent of how I picture the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.
Few stories have captured the American imagination more during the Trump era than the Avengers saga. Sure, there was Game of Thrones, but even disregarding the disastrous finale, in the end it was, as Ian McShane put it, just “tits and dragons.” It is tempting to dismiss the MCU as a mere mass market, pop culture cash cow diabolically designed to rope us in and rivet our attention, amusing ourselves to death in Disney’s digital dungeon as spaceship Earth goes the way of Wall-E.
But sometimes, the artifacts of popular culture rise above the din of distraction and enter the ether of myth. They portray, in the clothing of symbolic form, the deep drama of moral and mental forces in which a people is caught. As Joseph Campbell, who applied this logic to the Star Wars trilogy, put it: “Myth is public dream. Dream is private myth.” We dream in public in order to bear and make sense of the chaos of our time. James Joyce, one of Campbell’s heroes, famously wrote: “history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” The nightmare in which we are currently caught, I trust, needs no introduction. But the public dream of the MCU can help us not only make sense of it but help us awaken. It is both clue and cure for our terrible times.
In a tweet: Trump is Thanos. Bernie is the Hulk. Biden is Captain America.
(For you nerds and not-so-nerds out there: Andrew Yang is Iron Man (brilliant, irreverent tech entrepreneur with an eye to the future); Mayor Pete is Spiderman (scrappy young talent eager to join the team before he’s fully ready who looks like his primary caretaker still does his laundry and presses his shirts); Beto is Starlord (yeah, you see it); Marianne Williamson is Scarlet Witch (obviously, though her invocation of “dark psychic forces” sealed it); Warren is Black Widow (a disciplined professional you don’t want to mess with who shouldn’t have been a casualty in the final battle); Obama is Black Panther (no, not just because he’s black, or because of this (alarmingly convincing) deep fake, but because both are enlightened kings); and Tulsi Gabbard is, of course, Nebula (a semi-human femme-bot fatale who is clearly playing both sides and primed to sabotage the good guys due to some misplaced fealty to a big daddy figure).
Trump has driven the Left into a Hulkian rage, and if it cannot summon the Herculean restraint to assemble itself, the Republic is lost. What better figure, then, to restore comity and credibility, experience and expertise, dignity and decency to the office of the president; to reverse the fateful finger-snap of 2016; to assemble America—than the former vice president of the man against whom Trump rose in the first place. A man from the past. A man who still believes in the basic goodness of the country. A man with an at times cloying and corny and naïve and nostalgic vision of the country’s role in the world. A man who still believes in public dreams.
It was not the Hulk that led the Avengers into battle against the time-twisting and -traveling Titan Thanos. It was Captain America.
To be continued…