Donald Trump May Seem Like Bane, But Batman Wouldn't Save Us

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump celebrates after inauguration ceremonies swearing him in as the 45th president of the United States on the West front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 20. Some are drawing parallels between the speech and the Batman character Bane. Carlos Barria/File Photo/Reuters

Just after Donald Trump's inauguration speech many noticed how Trump's claim that "we are transferring power from Washington DC and giving it back to you, the people" had an uncanny echo of those spoken by Bane, the masked villain played by Tom Hardy in Christopher Nolan's 2012 film The Dark Knight Rises.

"We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people," Bane declares in the movie.

But besides this direct link between Trump and Bane's words, the Christopher Nolan-directed Batman films are a surprising source of political reflection. The references to Bruce Wayne's elite status and the way in which Bane plays on populist fears both have parallels in the real world.

The scene that best sums up the universe of Nolan's Batman takes place during a gala charity dinner for Gotham's elite. Catwoman, jewelry thief extraordinaire, confronts our hero, whispering in his ear, "There's a storm coming, Mr. Wayne. You and your friends better batten down the hatches, because when it hits, you're all gonna wonder how you ever thought you could live so large and leave so little for the rest of us."

If The Dark Knight (2008), which confronted the ethics of concealing the truth for the sake of a "higher good," perfectly painted Bush's era and the world after 9/11, then The Dark Knight Rises served as an illustration of the world to come: the Trump era. If The Dark Knight showed that eavesdropping on citizens was for their own good when Batman created a huge surveillance network in order to find the Joker, then The Dark Knight Rises revealed that Batman's real power is actually based on the stock market speculation. Without that, Batman is nothing.

This is why the Joker in The Dark Knight intended to stop only when Batman took off his mask and revealed his true identity: the person underneath the mask is not a genuine philanthropist who cares about the welfare of his fellow citizens. Batman cannot be separated from Bruce Wayne, the man who made his fortune on the stock market.

In this sense, Batman is a member of what the Occupy Wall Street movement called the 1 percent, wielding power and representing the existing order. Isn't that precisely the establishment Trump was opposing? Didn't Bane also attack the stock exchange when one of the traders shouted, "This is a stock exchange! There's no money you can steal!" and Bane retorted in Trump style: "Really? Then why are you people here?"

But what was the "storm" referred to by Catwoman at the beginning of the film? Was the real storm to be found in the Occupy Wall Street movement—happening at the time Nolan was shooting his movie—or was it that the rage of 99 percent against the 1 percent was instrumentalized by Trump, rather than transforming itself into a real force able to tackle the establishment?

It turns out that the opposite of Hillary Clinton wasn't an egalitarian movement rebelling against the financial dictatorship of the 1 percent. The alternative is Bane, the personification of populist terror, who nevertheless utilizes the discourse of anti-elitism, as Trump did in his inauguration speech.

However, it should be obvious even—especially—to those who voted for Trump that this is not the movement of the 99 percent.

Maybe Nolan really wanted to use Bane to portray the potential of the Occupy movement to turn into populist terror. This is best illustrated in the striking scene of The Dark Knight Rises when Bane imposes martial law and a kangaroo court rapidly judges Gotham's rich. "Death or exile?" is the choice. Those who choose exile must walk across the frozen bay connecting the city to the coast. Of course, many of the elites choose exile, hoping to avoid death. But when Batman's ally Commissioner Gordon appears in front of the judge, he defiantly chooses death. There is no applause, no climax—this act doesn't lead to a rebellion or an uproar. Instead, the judge simply replies, "Very well. Death! By exile."

The choice was never a choice at all: both lead to certain death.

What is really missing today is a third option. What is missing is a people who will refuse to be guided by Bane or Batman, Trump or Hillary Clinton, populist terror or the violence of financial capitalism. The true lesson of Nolan's film for the Trump era is the following one: there is no Batman to get us out of the current deadlock, because Batman is already part of the problem. And Bane is just the other side of the coin.

Srećko Horvat is a philosopher and co-founder of DiEM25, a movement for democracy in Europe.