Captain America’s Dream Has Always Been The Conservative Nightmare
Conservatives are still upset that Captain America isn't one of them. However, Captain America is fictional and unlike modern conservatives, he has character. Steve Rogers questions "the American Dream" in the new mini-series "The United States of Captain America," and the very concept disturbs conservatives who haven't read the book or apparently any Captain America stories from the past 60 years.
Rogers, who literally fought Nazis, is wary of "the white picket fence fallacy that, if we're not careful becomes nationalism, jingoism." He states:
That dream isn't real. It never was. Because that dream doesn't get along nicely with reality, other cultures, immigrants, the poor. The suffering people easily come to be seen as “different" or “unAmerican." The white picket fence becomes a gate to keep others out. We're our best when we keep no one out. A good dream is shared. Shared radically. Shared with everyone. When something isn't shared it can become the American lie.
Republicans predictably responded as if Steve said all this in Chinese while burning a flag. Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton said Cap deserved a "demotion to lieutenant for that speech," which Fox News anchors shared with him during an outrage segment.
CAPTAIN AMERICA No. 130
This demonstrates a significant yet not surprising lack of critical reading skills. Captain America doesn't believe “nationalism" and “jingoism" are true patriotism. As someone
other than Thomas Jefferson said, “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." That doesn't mean joining a militia or storming the Capitol but not becoming complacent about America's supposed greatness. It's common for conservatives to say, “America isn't perfect but it's the greatest nation in the world." That's hardly inspirational. It looks down at other nations while never looking inward or trying to improve.
Dean Cain, who's officially the worst actor to play Superman on screen, decided to criticize the superhero who's actually had some successful movies lately. Friday, on Fox News (of course), he said:
You know, I love Captain America; I love the concept of Captain America, but I am so tired of all of this wokeness and anti-Americanism. You know, we just celebrated our 245th birthday. In my opinion, America is the greatest country in history. It's not perfect; we are constantly striving for a more perfect union, as we all know, but I believe she's the most fair, equitable country ever, with more opportunity than anyone's ever seen.
You'll notice that only conservatives are apparently allowed to express concern about the direction of the country. They don't take this “love it or leave it approach" when complaining that they saw a homeless person at Starbucks. Cain claims that he regularly travels to "other countries where they have to deal with governments who aren't anywhere near as fair as the United States" and he kisses the soil when he returns. That's probably quite the scene at customs. He must have a terrible travel agent or he's deliberately visiting some of the places America has bombed into freedom.
As I've written elsewhere, Steve Rogers is the idealized symbol of the American dream. His country took a frail, sickly kid from Brooklyn and enabled him to reach his full potential. But Captain America has always been a thoughtful liberal patriot (yes, such a thing is possible). He loves America enough to "criticize her perpetually," like a costumed James Baldwin.
DAREDEVIL No. 283
In 1990's Daredevil No. 283, literally called “The American Nightmare," Cap goes full Occupy Wall Street, decrying "the gap between the rich and the poor." Sure, he might've won the super soldier lottery but he didn't think that made America perfect. He tells Daredevil, "In New York, it's like a third world country living at the feet of elite corporate kings."
In Berlin, Poland, even the Soviet Union — people are making demands and being heard. The world is changing but America will be the last to change.
During Mark Gruenwald's 10-year run on Captain America, the government once demanded that Steve Rogers serve as its loyal mascot. He refused and was replaced by the very MAGA-esque John Walker. This was all a scheme by Cap's arch-nemesis, the Red Skull, who you can imagine secretly phoning Cotton and praising him for the "demotion to lieutenant" line.
CAPTAIN AMERICA No. 332
An issue of What If? from 1977 imagines a world where America has succumbed to the jingoism and bigotry that conservatives consider "patriotism." There's a WALL in Harlem to keep the undesirables in their place. Immigrants aren't welcome. There's no free press or even what we have now. America is a police state, and yes, that's a bad thing.
WHAT IF? No. 44
Captain America fights an evil version of himself, who represents this twisted America, and a victorious Cap delivers an awesome and shockingly prescient speech.
Listen to me — all of you out there! You were told by this man — your hero — that America is the greatest country in the world! He told you that Americans were the greatest people — that America could be refined like silver, could have the impurities hammered out of it, and shine more brightly! He went on about how precious America was — how you needed to make sure it remained great! And he told you anything was justified to preserve that great treasure, that pearl of great price that is America!
Well, I saw America is nothing! Without its ideals — its commitment to the freedom of all men, America is a piece of trash! A nation is nothing! A flag is a piece of cloth!
I fought Adolf Hitler not because America was great, but because it was fragile! I knew that liberty could as easily be snuffed out here as in Nazi Germany! As a people, we were no different from them! When I returned, I saw that you nearly did turn America into nothing! And the only reason you're not less than nothing — is that it's still possible for you to bring freedom back to America!
Steve Rogers dares to dream of a better America. That's what makes him Captain America. In 1984's Captain America No. 298, the Red Skull says he finds Rogers "perplexing," as the Nazi white supremacist can't fathom why someone so "superior" would willingly surround himself with "trash" like his then girlfriend, Bernie Rosenthal (a Jew), his Black partner Sam Wilson, and perhaps worst of all in the Skull's eyes, Arnie Roth, Steve's childhood friend who was openly gay. He accuses Cap of what conservatives would now call "virtue signaling." The worst people will always condemn a good man like Steve Rogers as being too "woke." But as he told General Ross in Avengers: Infinity War: “I'm not looking for forgiveness, and I'm way past asking for permission."
So say we all, Cap.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."