I’ve been reading about the impact of Donald Trump’s “anti-war” message in the 2016 election campaign, and I’m only now beginning to make sense of it. Trump is obviously no pacifist: he repeatedly advocates violence as a solution to global problems, often extreme violence.
But by opposing the Iraq War—or rather, by claiming to have done so from the start—Trump staked out an unusual position for a right-wing candidate. This should have been a liability: how can a Republican run so far from the party’s last president, much less hold that position against a Democratic critique? Yet it was enough to give Trump a victory.
The only way I’ve been able to cut through it is by looking at John Rambo, and the complex critique of the Vietnam War in First Blood and its sequels, even as they lionized the consummate American soldier. Rambo offered a vision of America so contrary to Marvel’s Steve Rogers, that it’s easy to forget that the two protagonists tread very similar paths.
By centering Captain America, rather than Rambo, as the ultimate American warrior, I missed the potency and dangers of Trump’s argument. And not for nothing did Chris Evans back Hillary, while Sylvester Stallone sided with the president-elect.