The mind of Bannon

Wow– that 60 Minutes interview was something.  And that Bannon is a great psuedo-intellectual talker.  I think he has earned from News Gingrich the mantle of “dumb person’s idea of a smart person.”  Jamelle Bouie:

As both chairman for Donald Trump’s campaign and onetime chief strategist for his White House, Steve Bannon cultivated a reputation for a kind of vulgar brilliance—the erudition of an intellectual matched with the instincts of, in his words, a “street fighter.” And the political press has obliged this image…

His recent statements and White House record show someone skilled at self-promotion but unable to advance a coherent (or even accurate) narrative or take advantage of political opportunity.

As for Bannon’s alleged tactical genius? His ability to craft potent messages against Hillary Clinton lost its utility on the day after the election. What we should judge instead is his seven months as “chief strategist,” where, far from bolstering the president, he led him into a series of missteps and blunders, including a de facto “Muslim ban” that immediately mobilized large parts of the public against him. You can see the fruits of Bannon’s influence in Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, a response that earned near-universal condemnation from both parties and large numbers of Americans. What has Steve Bannon helped President Trump accomplish? Nothing, save a low and sinking approval rating.

Bannon’s carefully cultivated reputation obscures the truth. Far from being a mastermind or a “street fighter,” he is simply a provocateur, skilled at manipulating and exploiting prejudice—hence his success with Breitbart—but unable to do much else. [emphases mine]

Yep.  What I especially liked, though was Will Saletan’s column on how Bannon’s views of Trump really do resemble  fascism (certainly, in over-used term these days).  It was jarring to  hear Bannon’s political philosophy so starkly laid out as little more than leader worship with little concern for deeper principles.  Saletan:

The term “fascism” is thrown around too casually by the left, as “socialism” is by the right. But fascism has a genuine meaning based on past cases, and you can see its themes in Bannon’s interview. Fascism’s core idea is allegiance to a leader in the name of national greatness. What distinguishes fascism from republicanism is how he responds to conflicts between the leader and countervailing principles or institutions. A republican welcomes such conflicts as ways to challenge and check the power of the executive. A fascist, perceiving these conflicts as obstacles to national unity, seeks to obliterate them and to consolidate power.

Bannon takes the latter approach. In the 60 Minutes interview, Charlie Rose asks him about the infamous video in which Trump boasted to Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush about groping women. Bannon only sees it as a loyalty issue:

Bannon: They [voters] don’t care.

Rose: They do care about respect for women.

Bannon: They do, but—

Rose: And it’s not just locker-room talk.

Bannon: That’s locker-room talk. The Billy Bush thing is locker-room talk. … Billy Bush Saturday to me is a litmus test. … When you side with a man, you side with him. OK? The good and the bad. You can criticize him behind [closed doors], but when you side with him, you have to side with him. And that’s what Billy Bush weekend showed me.

What’s striking here isn’t that Bannon tries to justify Trump’s remarks, but that he thinks justification doesn’t matter. Siding with the leader is more important than whether the leader’s behavior is “good” or “bad.” And if you don’t side with the leader, you must be purged, to illustrate the price of dissent. Bannon signals that he blocked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from an administration job because Christie failed this litmus test. “Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend, was not looked at for a Cabinet position,” says Bannon.

Damn.  Saletan is very much right in his analysis.  And no, we are not becoming a fascist country, but it is disturbing as hell that somebody with these ideas is so influential.  When it comes to the positive meanings of “American,” we can safely say that Trump’s presidency is profoundly un-American.



About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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