The best movie, television, and comic book villains don’t believe they are evil. That’s not to say they aren’t evil–they clearly are–but they believe their dastardly plans serve a noble purpose. It’s what separates the Joker–who terrorizes Gotham because he believes chaos is preferable to order–from bank robbers–who terrorize Gotham because they want money. The bank robbers know they are doing something bad, and as such are merely generic bad guys–many of them don’t even have names. The Joker’s motivations extend beyond merely being bad for the sake of being bad–he is motivated by a purpose he believes to be noble.
Many of these villains believe their noble purpose is to accumulate power. Their pursuit toward the top of the hierarchy trumps the crimes they commit. They may not want to be at the top merely to terrorize or hurt others once they get there, but they are willing to hurt others in order to maintain their status as the Most Powerful Person in their Universe. They don’t want to be at the top just to be bad; they just want to be at the top.
The more I reflect on the motivations behind these villains who are willing to do evil in the purpose toward what they believe is a noble goal, the more I understand Donald Trump. He doesn’t believe he is evil. He believes becoming the President is a noble goal, and is oblivious to the evil implications of his presidency. He believes his immigration stance is moral, not reprehensible. He believes rousing violence at his rallies is patriotism, not hatred. He believes an attack on his character is an attack on all that is good and noble about America.
Like the Joker, and Lex Luthor, and the League of Shadows, and any other well-written villain, Donald Trump doesn’t know he’s evil. And like the villains of the fictional worlds, that’s what makes him dangerous.