Stephen Bannon, close advisor and confidante of Donald Trump, has been fired. Rumors of changes in White House personnel seem to be part of the daily news cycle but his position seemed secure, despite some stories claiming that Trump, egotist and narcissist that he is, felt resentful that Bannon was getting too much credit for his election victory and that he was some kind of Rasputin manipulating his boss.
But stories of his impending departure escalated when earlier in the week Bannon called up and gave a surprisingly candid on-the-record interview to liberal reporter Robert Kuttner of The American Prospect where he took it upon himself to make various policy and personnel statements that implied that he was directing things. There were various explanations given for this action. One was that he was like Anthony Scaramucci and forgot to say that the interview was off-the-record. This seemed unlikely since Bannon is very media savvy and had been dishing the dirt off-the-record to reporters freely for months before. Then he himself claimed the next day that he spoke so freely because he wanted to deflect attention away from Trump for the roasting he was getting for his Charlottesville remarks and that he succeeded. I myself wondered if the real reason was that he was drunk at the time he called Kuttner (his face has the blotchy look of a heavy drinker) and was later trying to save his job by claiming that he was acting strategically to protect his boss.
On Thursday, Matt Taibbi had called for the firing of Bannon, saying that he was one of the most dangerous people in the administration because he had a warped and hateful vision like Trump and in addition had the strategic skills to get it implemented. He said that Bannon was the one who managed to help Trump overcome the racist image that threatened his candidacy.
Lots of dunces, but chief strategist Steve Bannon, sadly, isn’t one of them. The intellectual leader of the alt-right movement is no genius – nobody with his political views could be – but neither is he an idiot. He’s one of the few people in that White House with even a primitive grasp of long-term strategy, which makes his impulsive-seeming decision to call The American Prospect this week curious.
Bannon’s dismissal of the Charlottesville Nazis as “losers” who need to be suppressed – “We gotta help crush” them, he actually told Kuttner – seems insincere to say the least.
But remember: the snooty, college-based wing of the racialist right Bannon leads has always thought of itself as a cut above the mean – the thinking man’s Nazi movement, if you will. And its leaders have always looked upon goose-steppers like the Charlottesville goons as political liabilities.
Passages like these are exactly what make the Bannonite alt-righters so dangerous. They’re Nazis, but with media awareness. And they don’t want to take over a Virginia street, or an Oregon bird sanctuary, for a few hours here and there. They have much broader ambitions. They want it all – the world, Chico.
And that’s exactly why Bannon has to be fired. Trump once again has proved this week that by himself, he is too incompetent to marshal the political energy that swept him into office. The man is incapable of self-control or long-term strategic thought, and on some level, thank God for that.
But Bannon is the one person in that White House who we know for sure both embraces a white supremacist ideology and has a vision for how to implement it. The mere threat of that, that Trump’s political energy might somehow be married to a sober strategy, is terrifying and unacceptable. Bannon saved Trump’s political career once. He can’t be allowed to do it again; he has to go, and finally let Trump drown on his own.
Anyway, what does this mean in terms of policy changes? Who the hell knows? The country is lurching, seemingly randomly from one controversy to another. We have reached the stage where nuclear war not being unleashed is considered a good day. But one thing that we can be sure of is that Bannon is not going to retire into a cabin in the woods and spend his days fishing. And what is being debated is what he will do now and what effect it will have on policy..
He has returned to the helm of Breitbart News which he has called his weapon and has suggested that he now has a freer hand to force issues. He has also suggested that it was he who had decided to resign back on August 7 and that his departure on Friday was on the date he had chosen. But that seems implausible since Trump had been decidedly lukewarm towards his earlier in the week. But who caused him to be fired? Although Trump boasts about his ability to fire people, he has let others do his dirty work and has been curiously shy about his role in Bannon’s ouster.
There have been mixed signals from Bannon and Breitbart. On the one hand, they are saying that Bannon’s departure ends the Trump presidency that his backers had voted for and that the government is now effectively in the hands of the Democrats. On the other, they say that the Breitbart ‘killing machine’ is not going to wage war against Trump but on others within the administration who are pushing Trump towards a more globalist position, whatever that might mean.
There is no question that the hateful attitudes of Trump are still alive and well in the White House. I really don’t care about Bannon or any of the others in this rotten administration. The main question is whether this administration is more dangerous with him outside it than inside. I think it is better for him to be outside. Although he boasts about Breitbart being a ‘killing machine’ that can sway policy, that is just bravado. When the dust settles it is, after all, just a website, however well-funded it is and however loyal its supporters are. Bannon’s supporters seem unsure of what to do, with some threatening revolution.
I also find it curious that although Trump is loyal to no one but himself and will turn on someone in an instant over even the most trifling slight, none of the people he has caused to be fired have as yet turned on him and spoken against him. Maybe, like all the Republican leaders, they cower in fear at being the target of Trump’s tweets.