In the first month of Trump’s presidency, one of the least effective methods of political critique and resistance has also become one of the most popular: comparing the president to evil characters from fantasy books and movies. If you type “Trump is Voldemort” into Twitter search, you will be greeted with infinite results from people of all walks of life making roughly the same joke. Whenever J.K. Rowling tweets—as she did recently, taking on Piers Morgan, who chastised liberal Americans for being worked up about Trump—the Internet behaves as though she’s writing her next series in real time, and it’s only a matter of days until a few Hogwarts students start using silencing charms on cabinet members. Whether it’s Emperor Palpatine, Sauron, or Voldemort, expressing your politics through pop culture morality tales isn’t just a quick way to undermine your own argument, it also lulls you into to false sense of security, offering a narrative of comfort where none really exists.
Why Should a Coal Miner Vote for Hermione?
To convince people to change their politics, you have to get people to change the way they think about the issues. While it fits nicely into liberal fantasies that people only voted for Trump because they are a) stupid, b) racist, or c) both, this simply isn’t true. Whether or not he can deliver on it—and it sure looks like he can’t—Trump promised to revitalize the Rust Belt and rural America by bringing back jobs. He told voters he would do this by limiting immigration, pursuing an isolationist trade agenda, and aggressively making deals to bring jobs back to the States while keeping existing jobs here. Are these good plans? No, but they are plans.
Democrats had the opportunity to offer their own solutions. They could have talked about $15 minimum wage. They could have talked about strengthening unions. They could have talked about expanding alternative energy as a way to replace diminishing manufacturing jobs. Instead, liberal candidates and their surrogates talked in broad terms about image. “Trump is a bad guy who doesn’t deserve to be president” was the general message of the 2016 campaign. Ultimately, people didn’t care and elected him anyway.
“You should have elected Hermione instead of Voldemort” is just another version of this losing strategy. You have to talk to people about the issues that affect them rather than through vague literary abstraction. If you tell someone, “If you vote for me, you will get a three-dollar raise,” that is likely a lot more persuasive than “Trump is like a character in a book you haven’t read.”
You Have to Get People to Join the Rebel Alliance
Not only are comparisons to fictional characters ineffective in terms of connecting people with issues, they undermine your argument. There is a condescension built into these comparisons, and the people you’re talking to will see that plain as day. When you compare politics to the Harry Potter series, Hunger Games, or even 1984, you are implying that those who support your opponent either haven’t read those books or they don’t understand them. You may be saying “Hillary Clinton is Hermione,” but what you’re communicating is either, “If you’ve read the books I have, then you would share my opinions,” or, even worse, “If you had paid attention in class, you would be smart enough to see through this shit.” When you say “Hillary Clinton is Khaleesi,” what you’re communicating is “If you watched HBO instead of Big Bang Theory or NCIS: New Orleans, you wouldn’t have voted so stupidly.” It might be worth it to risk seeming like an insufferable know-it-all while explaining the virtues of universal health care to a conservative, but what do you have to gain by explaining which Trump staffer is Dolores Umbridge and which is Peter Pettigrew? The only real benefit of this kind of conversation is that you might come away feeling smarter than the people who voted for the guy who won.
But, guess what? Their guy won.
The Ring May Not Make It to Mt. Doom
Maybe you aren’t interested in talking to the other side. I don’t blame you. This kind of language isn’t just a losing argument, it also isn’t good for the person making the argument. The greatest danger in seeing yourself as Frodo Baggins living in the era of the Dark Lord is that it’s so easy to forget the key difference between yourself and a hobbit (besides, of course, hairy feet): We already know that Frodo wins. Frodo wins and returns to the Shire victorious to live out his days in a better world. The beautiful and terrible truth is that we are currently writing our own history. It isn’t a sure thing that Trump will lose in 2020. It isn’t a sure thing that America to elect one of his children to succeed him. It isn’t a guarantee that the Trump presidency won’t bring an end to democracy as we know it. It’s unlikely that the Trump presidency is going to be our collective Julius Caesar moment—Caesar, unlike the other characters described here, was a real person who provides an actual political example—but it all remains to be seen.
The greatest sin in comparing Trump to Voldemort is that it presumes that ultimately Trump will lose. The unfortunate truth is that often, in reality, evil goes unpunished. Sometimes the forces of good triumph and sometimes the forces of evil win out. If Trump is going to be defeated, it isn’t going to come from the fulfillment of a prophecy or the tip of the wand, and acting as though his downfall is inevitable is the surest way to make sure the Donald’s downfall never comes.