Trump’s status as an anti-hero is making him unstoppable


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If anyone had hoped that the dubious distinction of becoming the first American president to have a police mugshot taken might be a humiliating or humbling experience for the person concerned — or that four criminal indictments, 91 felony counts and an enforced tour of US courtrooms in the run-up to an election might precipitate some kind of fall in popularity — they must be feeling somewhat disillusioned.

Since the release of the image of Donald Trump in Fulton County jail — showing the former president adopting a thuggish pose, brows furrowed and eyes glaring contumaciously up towards the camera — he has only increased his lead. Trump is now more than 50 points clear of his nearest rival Ron DeSantis in some surveys, and a poll by The Economist and YouGov this week found he would win in a run-off between him and Joe Biden. In RealClearPolitics’ polling average, the current president is still ahead, but by less than a percentage point. 

Far from working against him, Trump’s mugshot became instantly iconic; “next-level”, as Elon Musk put it on X, formerly Twitter. Trump himself even took to Musk’s platform for the first time since he was banned in January 2021 to share the picture, along with a link to his website where supporters could make donations. His campaign said that it had made more than $9.4mn since the mugshot was released, including $864,000 from selling 24,000 coffee mugs printed with the image (geddit?) and $1.7mn from T-shirts.

Many worry that all his legal woes are turning Trump into a “martyr”, but I’m not sure that quite captures it. It would imply, apart from anything else, that Trump is being persecuted for some kind of strongly held beliefs or principles. But he is in possession of neither — apart from the belief in himself. No, Trump is no feeble martyr. He is something altogether more “based” — to borrow the internet slang-word for someone who is respected for paying no regard to political correctness or even basic morality. Trump is the ultimate American anti-hero.

An anti-hero, a word normally associated with fictional characters, is someone who plays the central role in a story despite possessing none of the virtues associated with a traditional heroic lead character. In a 2022 paper, a pair of researchers described the anti-hero as “a bewitching, unrepentant, amoral outsider who breaks old rules and creates new ones while leaving chaos in his wake”.

They also argued that Trump’s popularity was “foretold by decades of pop-cultural obsession with, and adulation for, the anti-hero”. One can think of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, Walter White in Breaking Bad, or Michael Corleone in The Godfather as examples of the huge cultural popularity of the anti-hero in the run-up to Trump.

“People love [the anti-hero] because they are fascinated by their amoral or even immoral stance — a stance which they cannot really take because they would get into trouble,” says Igor Prusa, co-author of the paper and a lecturer at Ambis University in Prague. “We admire them despite their transgressions, corruption and wrongdoing, which become a kind of aesthetical achievement.”

The anti-hero might commit or be implicated in evil acts, but he is not to be confused with a simple villain: not only is he the protagonist but there is also nuance to his character. He might be twisted, but he is not pure evil. Trump, likewise, might be a liar and a cheat, who shows contempt for democracy and has been found liable for sexual abuse, but he is not without all sorts of redeeming features: charisma, charm, relatability, huge stamina and the ability to be very funny, among other things.

Another strength, which plays a large part in the antihero’s appeal, is that Trump is unafraid to utter things that others will not. “We love antiheroes because they say what shouldn’t be said, and they do what shouldn’t be done,” Prusa tells me.

Trump’s willingness to go off script rather than to stick to what he thinks he should say, is surely a key part of his appeal. Despite his countless lies, it means people trust him: a CBS/YouGov poll last month found that among likely Republican primary voters who believe “honesty is very important”, 61 per cent would vote for Trump. Even more astonishingly, among those who plan to vote for him, Trump is more trusted than their own family members or friends.

The question is: can anyone beat an anti-hero, and how? The fictional versions often tend to bring about their own downfalls — certainly a possibility for Trump, but not one that can be relied upon. In the real world, what might be more effective are the kind of virtues associated with heroism: courage, conviction, humility, honesty and fortitude. These are, unfortunately, in short supply. That makes Trump’s increasingly antiheroic status increasingly threatening.

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Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden
Lisa Holden is a news writer for LinkDaddy News. She writes health, sport, tech, and more. Some of her favorite topics include the latest trends in fitness and wellness, the best ways to use technology to improve your life, and the latest developments in medical research.

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