The Death Of Steve Bannon’s Populist Revolution

On Friday, as the media was obsessing over the hero’s welcome Steve Bannon’s received upon his return to Breitbart after being dismissed by the Trump administration, we said the following:

Breitbart’s contention is that “the populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today.”

Back in the real world, Steve Bannon was fired from his position at the White House – a position that was one of the biggest coups for the nationalist cause since the second World War.

So Breitbart is arguing both sides of the coin.

Either Bannon’s ascension to Chief Advisor to the President was a big win for the cause or his getting fired was a big win, but it can’t possibly be both.

I mean I get that Steve’s on an adrenaline high right now and that’s probably all kinds of contagious at Breitbart, but I’m just not sure how not being in government versus being in government translates to a “win” in an effort to influence that same government.

Bannon can talk about “going to war” for Trump against Congress and the “globalist” elements in the White House all he wants, but the bottom line is that Steve already went to war – and he lost.

Indeed, even he seemed to admit as much to The Weekly Standard on Friday, saying “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.”

“We still have a huge movement, and we will make something of this Trump presidency. But that presidency is over,” he added. “It’ll be something else. And there’ll be all kinds of fights, and there’ll be good days and bad days, but that presidency is over.”

Right.

Bannon briefly succeeded in institutionalizing bigotry and xenophobia and his presence at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave did wonders to legitimize a poisonous ideology that has been relegated to the fringes of Western democracies since World War II.

What happens to that ideology now is anyone’s guess, but what we would suggest is that there will be an effort on the part of the alt-Right to claim that the Trump administration has been hijacked by war hawks and globalists.

Well with that as the context, do consider the following from The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza (this would be the same Ryan Lizza whose phone call with Anthony Scaramucci led directly to “The Mooch’s” untimely demise as communications director).

*************

Excerpted from a longer piece (which you really should read in full) by Ryan Lizza for The New Yorker

In March, I went to the White House to visit Steve Bannon, who Friday was fired by President Trump. After Bannon showed off his office and his famous whiteboard, we sat down at a wooden conference table in the large corner office of Reince Priebus, who was then the White House chief of staff. Moments earlier, Priebus had left the building, and Bannon seemed to use the chief of staff’s office as if it were his own, roaming around while he talked, and flinging a Coke can in Priebus’s trash bin, as if he were marking territory. Despite the show of confidence, Bannon felt like he was beset by enemies.

Since the day after the election, Bannon had been fighting against forces that he believed were trying to roll back the promises of the Trump campaign. The whiteboard was so important to Bannon because it represented the policy ideas that he had been instrumental in foisting on Trump. And Bannon wanted everyone who came into the West Wing to know precisely what Trump was elected to enact: a Muslim ban, a border wall, a protectionist trade agenda (especially with China), and a more isolationist foreign policy. Bannon was obsessed with defeating the elements in the White House who hadn’t worked on the campaign and didn’t understand those policies.

“Did you see the lead story in today’s Financial Times?” Bannon asked me. He summoned an aide to retrieve it and threw the pink broadsheet, the paper of record for what he calls the global élite, on the table.

“The lead story is ‘explosion of civil war in White House, fiery debate in Oval Office,’ ” Bannon said. The story was one of many then detailing the internal combat between Gary Cohn, Trump’s top economic adviser, and Bannon. What was somewhat unusual was that Bannon was bragging about it. In previous White Houses, officials downplayed this sort of internal combat, insisting that everyone was united around the President’s agenda. But in the Trump White House there is no Trump agenda. There is a mercurial, highly emotional narcissist with no policy expertise who set up—or allowed his senior staffers to set up—competing ideological fiefdoms that fight semi-public wars to define the soul of Trumpism.

The March meeting in the Oval Office was a pivotal battle between the two main factions: what the Financial Times called the “economic nationalists close to Donald Trump” and the “pro-trade moderates from Wall Street.” Bannon had spent every hour since Election Day fighting to preserve the Trump of the campaign—raw, populist, unapologetically nativist, anti-corporate. And Bannon, at least back in March, before he ran afoul of Jared Kushner and Trump and was almost booted out of the White House, seemed to be succeeding. At Bannon’s direction, Trump hung a painting of Andrew Jackson, a hero to the nationalists, in the Oval Office. Bannon installed himself on the National Security Council as principal, putting himself on par with the Secretaries of Defense and State. The President issued a series of decrees from Bannon’s punch list: the travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, a budget with vast new funding for a border wall and ice agents, withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

[…]

Bannon’s path to nationalism is famously circuitous.

[…]

In the nineties, he was deeply entrenched in New York finance, as a Goldman Sachs mergers-and-acquisitions executive, and then in Hollywood, as a somewhat marginal producer who tried, and failed, to move from the deal-making side of the business to the creative side.

In 2008, at the dawn of the Tea Party, Bannon was in Shanghai working on one of his numerous side projects, creating a virtual market inside the popular online game World of Warcraft. He persuaded Goldman to invest sixty million dollars in the effort, but it tanked, and Bannon was looking for his next reinvention. “I came back right before the 2008 election and saw this phenomenon called Sarah Palin,” he told me last year. The neo-populist movement that Trump eventually rode to victory was being born in the waning days of that campaign. Bannon thought that Republicans, who had become the party of tax cuts and free-market libertarian philosophy, exemplified by people like Paul Ryan, didn’t yet have the right vocabulary to speak to its own base. “The Republicans would not talk about anything related to reality,” he told me. “There was all this fucking Austrian school of economic theory.”

Bannon started making what are essentially crude propaganda films about people and issues on the new populist right, including ones about Palin, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Tea Party. He became a fixture on the conservative-conference circuit and befriended Andrew Breitbart, a former blogger and then a new-media entrepreneur who was the hidden talent behind the success of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Bannon helped Breitbart raise money for Breitbart News Network, including a ten-million-dollar investment from the Mercer family, which during this period emerged as a crucial patron for the populist right. When Breitbart died, in March, 2012, Bannon took over editorial control as well. Traffic exploded, from eleven million page views per month to two hundred million. “Frankly that’s why, when Breitbart puts its fucking gun sights on you, your life changes,” Bannon bragged to me once.

[…]

In the following months, during the debate over immigration, Breitbart became a crucial platform for anti-reform efforts, and Stephen Miller fed the site a steady stream of leaks from the Senate. It was also when the site started to attract white nationalists who saw restrictionist immigration policies as a weapon to keep nonwhites out of America. The site used a tag called “black crime” for some stories and brought in Milo Yiannopoulos, who wrote an infamous essay celebrating the alt-right, for which Bannon later bragged Breitbart had become “the platform.”

[…]

Now Bannon and Miller just needed to find a Presidential candidate for 2016. After Sessions declined to run, they backed Trump.

[…]

Bannon saw it as his role to infuse Trump’s victory with more meaning than the random result of the rise of a mob of malcontents. During the campaign last year, Trump would frequently ask Bannon and Miller, now Trump’s top policy adviser in the White House, for quotes from the Founding Fathers or nineteenth-century Presidents that link them to Trump’s policies. Aside from Jackson, they frequently leaned on Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln.

Bannon reveres Lincoln as an economic nationalist, and likes to remind people that, aside from saving the Union and freeing the slaves, Lincoln’s great accomplishments were the Transcontinental Railroad and the Homestead Act.

When Republicans cite Lincoln, the Party’s first and greatest President, they usually draw on his well-known speeches from when he was trying to preserve the Union. In February, when Miller was writing Trump’s address to Congress, he pored over Lincoln speeches to find something that would connect Lincoln with Bannon and Miller’s views on economic nationalism. Miller found what is surely one of the least-quoted Lincoln lines in speech-writing history, and Trump picked a spot in his speech to add it. “This will be the first time Lincoln is ever referred to in the service of a nationalist economic agenda and not slavery,” Bannon told Trump.

[…]

Voices on the nationalist right now fear that, with Bannon gone, Trump will be guided by the globalists. After the news of Bannon’s sacking became public, an editor at Breitbart tweeted, “#WAR.” I’m skeptical that Bannon’s exit will mean much. His policy legacy is mixed. He and Trump have mostly stamped out the immigration-reform wing of the G.O.P., though the business class and important leaders, like Paul Ryan, are still sympathetic.

But on economic policy, such as trade, and his recent attempt to push Republicans to raise taxes on the super-wealthy, Bannon made no progress to win allies in Congress. He failed to secure Trump’s repeal of Obamacare, and the nationalist trade agenda, including Bannon’s effort to pull out of nafta, has been stymied. The travel ban is still tied up in the courts. Trump’s recent attacks on the Republican senators Mitch McConnell, John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham have made the Senate more hostile to any Presidential proposals and more interested in driving its own traditional Republican agenda. Trump’s remarks on Charlottesville further eroded any influence he has, both in Congress and with Americans outside his shrunken base.

The lasting legacy of Bannonism is the xenophobia and hostility to nonwhites that emanates from the White House and has remained a political fire that this Administration is constantly fanning. But, as we learned this week, Trump doesn’t need Bannon to keep those flames alive.

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7 thoughts on “The Death Of Steve Bannon’s Populist Revolution

    • What makes MY eyes cross is the implication that these laws give carte blanche to racists to run down people. Not so. They clearly state, and are intended, to protect those who are caught in mobs in their vehicles and have no where to escape. Ever been in a demonstration Marty? Right.I’ve seen cars..with policemen in them..rocked and rolled.

      • You make a good point Greg, what are policemen supposed to do when caught up in their vehicles rocked by mobs and have no where to escape? What have they done all these years without the proposed legislation? Now we know that the factual scenario you paint has occurred countless times since the riots of the 60’s and one wonders why it’s taken all this time for state legislatures to come up with granting “immunity,” to those charged or sued for driving into protestors. Well, I do wonder.

        I know for a fact that every state in the union has self defense as a means by which a defendant charged with a crime or sued can introduce evidence and seek acquittal or prevail in the civil suit. That system has worked quite well since the founding on the country, as well as in England for centuries before our founding and upon which our system is based. I wonder why it no longer works for us in this context.

        So, Gregg, why the grant of immunity? Why do they need legislate on a subject already covered which will cause confusion? We’ve heard for so long that Republicans are opposed to needless and duplicative legislation. Why pass a law that “sounds” like it gives those bent on causing death and injury – not police – to obtain a pass by conniving to advantage themselves of law tailored to give them a pass? I also wonder why the laws proposed are not written for police only? Lots to think about.

  1. Surely, Bannon had his influence, but the Trump’s family history of white supremacy, KKK involvement, and admiration of fascist leaders – is the primary problem necessarily to be susceptible to a Bannon type influence. Thinking that Bannon’s departure from the Trump bubble somehow makes the WH atmosphere once again healthy and functional is as dangerous as it is laughable. Until Trump and the Republican Congress that tried to personally benefit from his corrupted presence is gone for good, the evil stupidity that is the Trump Administration is still an active pathogen capable of resurgence and worse infections.

    We have a problem greater in the Trump like incompetent and incapable Presidents achieving residency in the WH. Our elections system is a monetized pay-for-play system, only a democracy in name and that does not serve the nation, its people, the economy they create, and or their contributions to the world at large. Frankly, unless we take immediate action in changing our election system to produce a real and capable democracy of qualified candidates and qualified voters – we are doomed to repeat a long line of incompetent Trump like presidents – until we collapse completely.

    • Trump is no doubt guilty of the many sins he’s charged with. Yet he is there and only there because he is a mirror into which we see a nation with millions and millions who harbor many of the beliefs, prejudices, biases and dispositions he holds, and why so many of them (not all) voted for him and still support him. This article from Vox addresses some of the reasons why, against everything that appeared intuitively or forensically impossible from June 16, 2015 through November 7, 2016, to substantially every ‘expert,’ turned our to be wrong: The idea that Trump could win the Republican nomination, let alone garner anything close to more than 60,000,000 votes in a presidential election.

      https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2017/8/14/16143582/charlottesville-prejudice-psychology

      Talk about the how frail the foundations of America can easily become a mile long and an inch deep.

  2. Bannon..and any other White House figure in ANY Presidency…can only be as influential (for the positive or the negative) as a President allows them to be. Trump’s great flaw isn’t that he’s a racist, a bigot, a closet Nazi o0r any of those other preposterous notions. It’s that he’s INCOMPETENT to govern because of his personality and his ethic. Trump won’t achieve his “agenda” because he never stood for anything to begin with..it’s all about the closing baby..and he closed. Now he waffles, flails and attacks…he’ll end up listening to the White House voice that proposes actions and policies that are best for him..this is precisely the kind of puffed up phony our country has bought into and it may just be the cleansing we need.

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