If you were wondering about the decline of American exceptionalism, the news that Superman is renouncing his American citizenship is more proof of how far the worm has turned. According to the Huffington Post, in Action Comics #900 the Man of Steel says he’s giving up his U.S. passport.
Of course, Superman did come to this country as an illegal immigrant. The native of Krypton crash-landed in Kansas without a valid visa. Unlike Barack Obama, he would not be eligible for the presidency. Although I can’t claim to have read all of the Superman opus (at least, not recently), I imagine at some point in the saga a grateful nation naturalized him without forcing him to pay a fine and return to his home star system and await his turn for legal entry into the country.
However, in the latest Superman comic, the hero has decided that his American connection interferes with human-rights activism. You see, Superman recently visited Tehran to express his sympathy non-violently with demonstrators seeking to overthrow the Islamist tyranny in Iran. But on his return to the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, he is chastised by the unnamed president’s national security adviser. The fictional NSC is infuriated by the superhero’s actions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the mullahs see Superman as an American icon and view his peaceful protest as an act of war. In response, Superman says he will go to the United Nations to renounce his American citizenship the better to continue his superhero activism from a global rather than a parochial American perspective.
“ ‘Truth, Justice and the American Way’—it’s Not Enough anymore,” Superman declares.
A few things about this comic (or should I say “graphic novel”) are confusing.
First, what’s the point of having superpowers if you are going to play Gandhi when the going gets rough? Did Superman look on impassively as Iranian demonstrators were beaten and arrested on the streets of Tehran? Why wouldn’t he use his bullet-like speed, his more-powerful-than-a-locomotive strength, his X-ray vision, his flying ability at least to break some of those dissidents out of the Iranian dungeons where they were being tortured?
Second, Superman’s understanding of the problem is uncharacteristically broken-backed. Of course, Ahmadinejad sees him as an instrument of American policy. Superman’s quest for “Truth, Justice and the American Way” isn’t an expression of jingoism but an affirmation of the civic faith that supports American-style democracy around the globe as an integral element of our national identity. Superman may be fictional but to many of our cultural elites, as well as our real-life president, “the American way isn’t enough anymore” because they are not comfortable with American exceptionalism. With so many in the chattering classes conceiving of the United States as the problem rather than the solution it is no surprise that Superman would renounce Americanism. With Obama “leading from behind” in Libya and Syria and equivocating on human rights in Iran, it appears that the immigrant from Krypton has thrown in with the culture elite and decided that the American century is truly over. Heaven help us and a bleeding planet that may look to the United States now and again for global leadership.