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  • C.M.Knopf

There's Much Need to Fear, Superspreader is here!

| Donald Trump, the superzero. |

When he was released from Walter Reed Hospital after his bout with COVID-19, President Trump reportedly planned to rip open his button-down shirt to reveal Superman's crest on a t-shirt beneath. He didn't do this, but the imagery invoked by the report triggered a plethora of political cartoons featuring Trump as a super-spreading "hero." This one, at Cleveland.com, called it a "stunt." Another one, from Capitol Ink, featured Superman himself forcing a mask onto to the President. A cartoon from the Washington Post, replaced the Superman "S" emblem with a picture of the Coronavirus.


This wasn't the first time cartoonists had squeezed Trump in the blue and red spandex suit of the Man of Steel. In previous years, artists used the superhero imagery to comment on Trump's trade and tariff policies.


Superman has long represented "truth, justice, and the American Way." He has also been a figure - as a journalist and an undocumented alien - who has appeared to be in opposition to everything the Trump presidency has advocated.

Thus, the comparisons of Trump to Superman make an argument through not only irony but also offer, what rhetorician Kenneth Burke called, a perspective by incongruity - a “casuistic stretching, [which] interprets new situations by removing words from their 'constitutional' setting.” The oddly juxtaposed symbols of the Man of Steel with the obese Trump, of a journalist with the president who decries the "fake news," of an alien being with a vehemently anti-illegal-immigration president, of an icon of Truth with an administration who claims "alternative facts," influence audiences to have new perspectives by challenging their habits of thinking.


~Christina M. Knopf, PhD

19 November 2020