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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. (Photo: JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)

Even Villains Are Heroes in Their Own Minds

The plot to kidnap Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reveals the depths of militia lunacy in Trump’s America.

Last week, President Donald Trump was released from Walter Reed Medical Center after less than five days in quarantine after being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Hopped up on steroids and the next generation of experimental drugs, Mr. Trump was feeling “super,” not to mention invulnerable and “immune” to a virus that has killed more than 210,000 Americans on his watch. He had to be talked out of celebrating his premature return to the White House with a tasteless sight gag involving removing his shirt to reveal Superman’s iconic “S.”

To think Mr. Trump was mentally sizing up superhero unitards even as the federal government was closing in on a right-wing militia conspiracy to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is all one needs to know about this absurd character straight out of the annals of comic book villainy.

Personally, I wish he had been allowed to humiliate himself with such a ridiculous stunt. It would’ve instantly undermined the Leni Riefenstahl-inspired tableaux he huffed his way through on the White House balcony where he dramatically removed his mask.

Treating America like a shiny Metropolis on a hill when it is more like Gotham City under his stewardship is a typical Trump move. One need look no further than Mr. Trump’s encouragement of anti-government militias and his tacit support of white supremacists to see he would prefer a place where the lunatics are always trying to “Make Arkham Asylum Great Again.”

To think Mr. Trump was mentally sizing up superhero unitards even as the federal government was closing in on a right-wing militia conspiracy to kidnap and possibly kill Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is all one needs to know about this absurd character straight out of the annals of comic book villainy.

Six men from a group calling itself the Wolverine Watchmen (a name that just happens to juxtapose the names of two popular comic book franchises) were charged in federal court last week with conspiracy to kidnap Ms. Whitmer and initiate a civil war.

Thanks to undercover informants, authorities became aware of the plot early on and kept Ms. Whitmer and her family safe. If convicted, the conspirators could each face life in prison. Seven other militia members are also facing charges. It’s no surprise that many of the men are veterans of the protests in Lansing last spring when dozens of gun-toting militia men stormed the Capitol to object to Gov. Whitmer’s lockdown orders to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Their conspiracy to storm the Capitol again, this time to impose their will, inflict carnage, provoke a civil war “leading to societal collapse” and cripple law enforcement is the sort of thing that domestic terrorist groups are known to aspire to do.

Fortunately, the Wolverine Watchmen are just another group of mostly incompetent boogaloo boobs whose mouths are far bigger than their brains, if not their guns.

The group’s leader reportedly lived in the basement of a vacuum shop in Grand Rapids at the time of his arrest, so he wasn’t a man of accomplishment. He needs a revolution in the streets if he’s ever to amount to anything. One wag on Twitter hilariously referred to the terrorists as “Vanilla Isis,” a putdown they and their ilk will never live down.

But just because these men are losers in every objective sense doesn’t mean Fox News and the right wing won’t decide to lionize them as heroes at some point. Like the teenaged Kenosha shooter currently facing homicide charges in the shooting death of two BLM protesters, the six white men arrested for plotting to kidnap Ms. Whitmer will remind some like-minded people of their own relatives and friends. There will be sympathy for these devils, as there always is.

While Mr. Trump was musing out loud to his White House minions about his miraculous ability to overcome COVID-19, it never occurred to him to seize the opportunity for leadership to denounce the dangerous militia movements that have proliferated during his presidency.

Instead of offering Ms. Whitmer encouraging words after a terrifying threat to her family and the civilian government of Michigan has passed, Mr. Trump fixated on grievance, as usual. He complained that Ms. Whitmer didn’t thank him for the work of “his” Department of Justice for foiling the domestic terrorists. If he wasn’t allowed to rip his shirt open and reveal a gigantic “S” on his chest, he was still determined to be treated like a superhero in the drama instead of the delusional supervillain he actually is.

Instead of flying to rescue Ms. Whitmer like a real superhero, Mr. Trump is the defacto leader of the dark forces that are arrayed against the authorities and the civilian order of that state. He’s more like the Bizarro Superman than the real thing.

His notorious tweet “Liberate Michigan” became a rallying cry for the men who are now facing charges that will put them behind bars for many, many decades.

Mr. Trump also has a passing resemblance to the billionaire megalomaniac Lex Luthor who opposed Superman at every turn. But instead of being a high-tech genius or a self-made financial whiz like Luthor, Mr. Trump hasn’t done anything cleverer than figure out which Manhattan money laundering schemes work best for him in the short run.

But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from centuries of reading great poetic narratives like Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” — even Satan believes he’s the hero of his own drama. Why should Mr. Trump be any different?

That’s why Mr. Trump wants to wear a big “S” on his chest despite the fact no one believes he’s really the type who would be sent to Earth as a refugee baby from a “loser planet” that didn’t have the good sense to be named after him.

It’s interesting that in wanting to make a statement about his alleged invincibility, Mr. Trump reached back to a character invented in the late 1930s by two Jewish teenagers from Cleveland who stumbled upon a formula for escapism that has both entertained and infantilized whole swaths of our culture ever sense. Mr. Trump has added his own Nietzschean twist to the superhero mythos, of course. His version of Superman doesn’t care about anyone or anything except himself.

So, what does the “S” that Mr. Trump wants to parade on his chest really stand for if not truth, justice and the American way? “Sedition,” “Super Spreader” and “Cynical” are probably more honest descriptions.

“Hate groups heard the president’s words not as a rebuke, but as a rallying cry,” Ms. Whitmer said denouncing Mr. Trump’s wink-and-nod to the Proud Boys the previous week. “When our leaders speak, their words matter. They carry weight. When our leaders meet, encourage or fraternize with domestic terrorists, they legitimize their actions and they are complicit.”

That’s why the only superhero in this drama is Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She kept her cool and governed responsibly even as gun-toting villains egged on by the president conspired in the shadows — and she did it all without removing her mask.


Tony Norman

Tony Norman

Tony Norman is a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist. He was once the Post-Gazette’s pop music/pop culture critic and appeared as an expert on cultural issues on local radio talk shows and television programs. In 1996, he began writing an award-winning general interest column, which, he says, rejuvenated his enthusiasm for the kind of journalism that makes a difference.

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