Monday, August 10, 2020

The Cross and the Punisher

He lives just a couple of houses up the street from us.  

He's genial enough as neighbors go, happy to offer a pleasant word in passing, or a comment about the weather.  Don't know his name, and he doesn't know mine, but we do exchange a nod or a word of greetings.  What I know about his is what I can infer from his household.  It's the house with the most flags, meaning that not only is there a flag pole with an American flag and a yellow Don't Tread on Me flag, but a good solid dozen little flags set out in front of the shrubbery.   

He's a Ford guy, meaning every vehicle at the house is a Ford.  An Edge, an Explorer, an F-150, and...for a long time...a raised old F250 from the 1990s.  This summer, he replaced that F-250 with a brand spankin' new F-250, a big black beast of a truck.  Honestly, it's a pretty nice vehicle.  Not really the best for inside the Beltway commuting, but he's a hunter and a sportsman, so I get the appeal.

He'd had it for a couple of months when the stickers went up on the cab window.

On the left side, there was a cross emblazoned with the stars and stripes.  Not really my cup of tea theologically, but very in keeping with the rest of his home decorating scheme.

On the right, there was a Trump 2020 sticker.  This didn't surprise me, given the NRA stickers on the old truck and the aforementioned Don't Tread on Me flag.  But this was not just any Trump 2020 sticker.  It was a Punisher Skull Trump 2020 Sticker, also emblazoned with the stars and stripes.

It's a peculiar juxtaposition.  The Punisher, in the event you're not familiar with him, is a Marvel Universe anti-hero.  He's a cynical, gun-wielding vigilante who sees it as his calling to set things right by killing people.  If you've ever seen the Clint Eastwood film Magnum Force?  The Punisher isn't Clint Eastwood.  The Punisher is closer to one of the cops who murder the people they've determined are scum or enemies of law and order. A good analogue to the Punisher, from elsewhere in the comic book world: Judge Dredd, who enforces the law without mercy in a fascistic fantasy dystopia. Not a villain, exactly, but definitely on the darker side of things.

The Punisher has a skull on his outfit, and that skull has become an icon of the Trumpist right wing. For them, it parses as powerful, as kick-butt.  You can't mess with me, it says, or some dyin's comin' your way.  I get that, generally.  It's like kids liking the skull and crossbones pirate flag, as they play around with the liberating power of doing whatever one pleases.  Or the skulls preferred as biker flair.  As a political symbol, though?  

It's odd, given that the Punisher's skull is rather obviously meant to be a symbol of brutal, cold-hearted violence.  It is not a symbol of good.  It was never intended to be.  It reads as evil, turned against evil.

I mean, does it look good?  Clear your mind, and imagine showing this to an average American in 1976.  "Here's a campaign sticker from the year 2020," you'd say.  "What do you think it says about the state of the country and the spirit of this candidate?"

I think you'd be met with a horrified shudder.

And there's something else.  It is exactly the opposite of a cross.  The Punisher, in point of fact, is exactly the kind of person who might consider crucifixion as a viable option for someone who he considers an enemy.  

Those two stickers on my neighbor's truck speak to the fundamental tension between Trumpism and Christian faith.  One embraces the ideal of violence and fetishizes retribution and a sense of aggrievement.  The other defies violence and embraces self-sacrifice and forgiveness as the highest virtues.

Together, the two are irreconcilably dissonant.  That kind of dissonance tears a person apart.  Or a country.

Yesterday, I saw my neighbor drive by on his way to work.  The Trump Punisher Skull was gone, but the cross remained.

A good thing, I suppose.