Trump’s Superman is the first, prepare for Captain Rishi

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Just before Christmas-shopping got underway, Donald Trump unveiled his festive offering in the form of $99 NFT cards featuring him cast as various superheroes – from Superman to someone far, far away from reality in outer space; some perhaps were more accurate than others.

And whilst some American commentators were outraged and infuriated with one describing the “Trump train at the last stop… [the] transition from surreal to absurd to pitiful is complete” and another saying the former President “couldn’t humiliate himself any more than he has”, I was left wondering what is the real fuss?

Trump is not alone though – there does seem to be a bit of a trend here of our leaders trying to portray themselves as superheroes. During her Instagram self-promotion blitz, Liz Truss, posted pictures of herself driving tanks and posing as a racing driver. Are you really a leader, not an intern, if you only do it for 45 days though? Whilst another PM from that year, Boris Johnson, famously did a Captain Maverick photoshoot when posing in a typhoon jet last Summer, having already stood down.

Not only is the theme popular amongst our has-been leaders, but it made me ponder about arguments both for and against such behaviour. Displaying yourself as a superhero is just another publicity stunt that all our politicians deploy through many forms anyway. Whether it’s them appearing uncomfortably with the public or hopping on a zipline in front of the city, attempting to seem heroic and formidably strong is nothing new.

If anything, it is a must-do for them to market themselves in the new digital age. In a job in which they are constantly required to win our favour as a population, it is not surprising to see a new, innovative and slightly varied approach, even though Trump cards are ridiculous. Being a leader is after all, the world’s longest running and somewhat semi-permanent job application. We scrutinise every element of their lives, be it morning runs or how they travel to an NHS hospital in Leeds. Our political system dictates that for politicians to be successful, they must permanently have captured the nation’s attention and be in step with its mood. That’s not such a bad thing given that we trust them not to crash our savings, and with the nuke codes – it is in fact healthy in a democracy to see them so aware of it.

Attempting to seem heroic and formidably strong is nothing new

As well as voters, we are all also consumers, especially of content in the digital world. Gone are the days when placards and caps could win an election. We see countless advertisements a day and given how ever-crowded the consumer’s market is, it is no surprise political strategists are aware of the need to make a splash.

We have to ask ourselves whether we really want to see our leaders in suits shaking hands with dignitaries or whether we would prefer the image of a strong figure rescuing the nation.

With the digital revolution, the world faces more complex threats than it previously did. We only have to look around to see the war in Ukraine, cyber-attacks, and yet some of our population feeds off TikTok. Perhaps the image of a strong leader, a ‘superhero’, standing tall in the face of threats is what some in the modern world expect and demand of their leaders to match their consumer habits and justified fears. Politicians recognise the need to come across as favourable and memorable, and that isn’t a necessarily a bad thing.

Heroic portrayals might well be the future for how some leaders present themselves to the nation

Like any other political stunt, Trump’s has sought to push a campaign narrative – portraying himself as the ‘superhero’ who will ‘make America great again’ in contrast to an opponent who seems both frail in age and in the polls. It is an election narrative, but one that is being articulated through very weird and different means.

As the American commentators have argued, Trump’s major announcement of unwanted playing cards only illustrates his desperation and lack of substance for the campaign this time around. An absence of major policies or a clear message risk making the campaign a dud, just as the pack priced at 99 dollars each, isn’t exactly flying off the shelves, either.

As Trump slips into irrelevance with Republicans preferring DeSantis and he himself faces a criminal investigation, the Trump cards seem less the dangerous item and more just material for satirists. Whilst it is a ridiculous stunt and we must be cautious about any Trump activity after the Capitol riots, heroic portrayals might well be the future for how some leaders present themselves to the nation. Captain Rishi anyone?

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