At the time of writing, it’s been perhaps sixteen hours since news of Steve Bannon’s resignation broke. And dependent upon which side of the aisle you’re sitting on, this is either the best news since the Emancipation Proclamation because an alleged far-right apocalyptic ideologue has been turfed out of a position of power … or arguably even BETTER news, because your decrepit, oligatastic, neocolonially-enthused, warmongering exclusive club of political influencers now doesn’t have to listen to somebody from ‘outside’ the established Beltway consensus attempting to break in.
When I penned that over-long sentence, I originally intended the first part to refer to the Democrats and ‘liberals/left’ in general; whilst the latter would demarcate the Republicans. Yet thinking more about it, there’s a more fundamental division that transcends (US) party lines. Namely, that between the ‘mob’ whose main source of news and opinion – what they think in other words – on the movers and shakers of great, global events is the frequently outright ‘fake news’ of medias both mainstream and social, and who exist ‘outside’ the realm of actual influence and power … versus those who, put bluntly, do. From whatever nominal party they may hail from.
Now that might sound curious, but let’s consider why each group found something to dislike in Bannon.
For the former, it was obvious. He ran Breitbart. And lest we be unclear about this, I am not a Breitbart fan. They put out some pretty nausea-inducing content on occasion. Kinda like our on WhaleOil, I guess – except with a much greater degree of literacy, and the apparent business nouse to be able to successfully turn a profit and pay for Milo’s various shenanigans without having to do as Slater did and wind up actively begging readers for their spare change in order to keep things afloat.
His pre-Breitbart days were also laden with some … odd, and in the eyes of a few folk, decidedly unsettling work in the film industry. And again, the sorts of paens to the ‘golden age’ of Reaganism or ‘documentaries’ about ‘Islamofascism’ which he became known for are not exactly to my viewing taste. Although I’ll have to reserve judgment on his somewhat peculiar choice to bring Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus to the big screen [starring Anthony Hopkins] til I’ve seen it.
But does any of this make him a figure of such unremitting evil to have attracted the impressive opprobrium of seemingly every quarter of the political spectrum all at once? To render him a Palpatine-esque figure as the memosphere chose to represent him? Or the Grim Reaper, in the eyes of Saturday Night Live?
Questionable. After all, much of the above is pretty stock-standard conduct on the ‘conservative’ end of politics these days – particularly in America. And in any case, most certainly wouldn’t lead to him receiving such vociferous hatred even from the folk in his own party and the White House he so recently helped to take.
No, to understand why Bannon ‘had to go’, we need to look deeper. At things he’s actually done or tried to do whilst in a position of power and authority in American – and therefore global – politics.
The most striking thing I can recall about Bannon is hearing, shortly after he wound up taking up the mantle of Trump’s White House majordomo, how he’d set up a room in the White House with a big board on it, keeping track of both all the promises Trump had made on the campaign trail – and more importantly, how close the Administration was to ‘closing’ on each of them.
This is pretty revolutionary stuff. After all, we’ve become so patently used to the old maxim of “politicians campaign in poetry – then they govern in prose”, and other such jokes about how unlikely a given President is to actually stick to his word, that nobody batted an eye when Justice Antonin Scalia of the US Supreme Court included a line in one of his judgements about how campaign promises were legally speaking the least binding form of human commitment. It’s not just a Republican or American thing, either. After all, I seem to recall Obama promising an end to Guantanamo Bay, and our own National Party is presently in slightly more than lukewarm water for promising to deliver the same much-needed hospital in Dunedin for two Elections in a row…
But the trouble with what Bannon did there, from a political-insider stand-point, is that no politician tends to like constantly being reminded that they’re not actually in a position of absolute control. That they actually have constituents whom they’re directly responsible to – who placed their trust in the elected representative to do particular things which were loudly talked about on the campaign trail. Instead, freshly buoyed by the heedless empowerment of possibility, a newly minted political leader tends to wish to just do as he or she pleases and push the line that the electorate will just blithely accept the idea that what was promised during debates and advertisements and keynote speeches is just .. well .. as sort of puffery of no consequence. Not something they actually HAVE to be held to!
And meanwhile, the other traditional constraint upon an incoming politico is the ‘machinery of governance’. The folk out there – whether civil service, military personnel, or simply entrenched mandarins and lawmakers who are all necessary to make any given initiative work … yet who all tend to have their own ideas about how or whether it’s a good idea to do so. And who very often are so fundamentally wedded to the previous dominant consensus of whichever political environment they’re in that they are both fundamentally incapable of and actively inimical to the possibility of helping to make anything from OUTSIDE or that’s a direct challenge to that consensus happen.
This partially helps to explain things like why John F. Kennedy wasn’t able to completely call a halt to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, for instance. Because even though he might personally have seen the lack of wisdom in what was going on [hence one reason why the operation was downgraded so significantly from something which would have borne closer resemblance to Ronald Reagan’s later invasion of Granada, to .. well .. what it was], there was simply too much of a commitment from everybody involved below him to just call the whole thing off.
Anyway, I digress.
The point is that over the last seven months we have basically been watching a slow-motion ‘civil war’ occurring at the very heart of American Politics. I do not refer to the outright street-battles between ‘AntiFa’ and others over Confederate memorials or statues of Joan of Arc, either.
Instead, it is that fundamental fault-line of politics which I talked about in a magazine column something like two years ago – “Nationalists vs Globalists”.
And whilst Trump was quite plainly elected in no small part thanks to his fairly direct appeals to some Nationalist – even outright ‘Nativist’ – political themes [things like abandoning the TPPA, or ending US military adventurism overseas, or cracking down hard on the finance industry and restoring regulations which previous administrations had been tearing up from Bill Clinton onwards] … the forces which have since coalesced around Trump, most particularly in both the Republican Party and his own family members [whom, perhaps somewhat regrettably, he can’t just ‘fire’ – unless they’re married to him], have most DEFINITELY been much more towards the ‘Globalist’ end of the spectrum.
We can see this most prominently with his daughter’s advocacy for military intervention in Syria, or his son-in-law attempting to strengthen the US-Saudi de-facto and self-defeating military co-dependence. Or, on a vaguely related note, the succession of just plain daft Republican moves like healthcare ‘reform’ under Paul Ryan [which, as I’ve noted previously, flew flat in the face of Trump’s previous few decades of pushing for ‘single payer’ public healthcare]. And, of course, the present ardency of saber-rattling on North Korea [and against Russia].
Now, against all of this, Bannon has been steadily railing. Attempting to both ‘break with’ and just outright ‘break’ the previous prevailing political consensus that has shaped American politics for well over three decades now.
No wonder Trump called him a left-winger.
When it comes to the foreign military adventurism, he’s continually lost friends across Washington for attempting to remind the President that i) this wasn’t what he was elected on [and, indeed, it was the bloody legacy of PREVIOUS Presidents’ offshore entanglements which directly won Trump the Presidency – those areas which swung for him in Ohio etc. are also some of those who’ve been hardest hit by Iraq etc.]; and ii) that ‘military options’ – whether against Assad or Kim Jong Un – simply serve to produce negative outcomes from the perspective of sane and rational US policy [now there’s an oxymoron for you].
In fact, it’s his recent comments on North Korea that have probably been amongst the ‘final straws’ for his White House tenure. Not least because his cool-headed, rational analysis that a strike on the DPRK would basically lead to Seoul being flattened in about thirty minutes are .. well .. pretty much impossible to countermand. And were even positively reported by an array of ‘establishment’ media outlets like the Washington Post that have spent a good portion of the last seven months basically calling for his head. [and, in the case of the WaPo, the installation of a pliant ‘Wealthy Elite’ comprised of the Kushners of this wold in his place]
No boss ever likes it when an underling makes him look bad – and the underling positively glorious by comparison – by going ‘off script’ and pointing out that the Emperor is presently denuded.
But Bannon’s record of ‘interesting’, ‘principled’, and above all ‘controversial-from-the-neoliberal-globalist-perspective’ political positions does not end there.
He previously made headlines just a few weeks ago for wanting to make the US tax system more progressive than it is now – and as part of this, ending the present quagmire [dare I say ‘swamp’] of loop-hole ridden exigencies whereby US corporations are able to dodge so much of their fair share of the national tax burden.
And on top of that, he’s continued to be one of the loudest voices inside the Administration when it comes to outright opposing American involvement in those persnickety international trade deals we all spent afternoons marching up and down Queen St to protest over the last few years.
Little wonder, then, that some of the loudest voices of jubilation at news of Bannon’s leaving were to be found in the nation’s stock exchanges. The reason for this is simple – the Wolf-Pack of Wall St knows all too well that one of the only folk remaining in the White House to seriously wish to chain and shackle them like the Fenrirs that they are has now departed.
So with all of that in mind … it strikes me as somewhat peculiar that there are so many folk up and down what claims to be the ‘progressive’ end of politics are cheering on Bannon’s march off into the sunset. I mean, I suppose I could understand it if the idea was that it would just bring down the Administration outright. But that seems rather unlikely.
Instead, in reality, despite Bannon’s previous controversial positions in some areas, he represented one of the ‘sanest’ voices around Trump. And more particularly, a direct force of opposition against the sort of hard-neoliberal wheelbarrow agenda being pushed by many of the folk Trump previously railed against [implicitly or directly] who are now apparently running the Republicans’ political efforts.
If you oppose the US turning into more of a Corporate-haven-masquerading-as-a-serious-state, and if you are mortified at the idea of American military power once again making a wasteland and failing utterly to bring about ‘peace’ … then you should be similarly aghast about Bannon leaving the White House.
But, of course, you won’t be – because all you’ve really known about Bannon is that seemingly every sensationalizing media outlet desperate for a few extra bucks of clickbait advertising revenue … cannot avoid the temptation to say he’s a “white supremacist” or at best “far right” every time his name is mentioned. Never mind his actual remarks following Charlottesville decrying and disavowing ‘white supremacy’ and ‘ethno-nationalism’ in far stronger language than many ‘establishment’ political leaders (even going so far as to outright state that it’s an imperative to “crush it”). Because once the ‘brand’ is made – it sticks, I guess.
Now once again. Lest I find the local branch of “AntiFa Aktion” camped outside my house the day after this story is run, it’s probably worthwhile to note that I do not defend absolutely everything which Bannon has ever said and done. I don’t like reasonable swathes of what appears to be his work and his worldview.
But this isn’t about that.
This is about whether I want to live in a world wherein the Trump administration is just ‘bad’ – or instead ‘actively destabilizing the international situation at least partially in pursuit of some sort of Monolithic-Market-Monophysite-Corporate-Motivated-Malevolence agenda”.
Some might say that the Trump administration as we’ve seen it these past 7 months is already a pretty heaping helping of the latter.
They might have a point.
Yet tell me … how does it get BETTER by removing one of the few checks upon that perniciousness.
Oh right. It doesn’t.
And no, before anybody says it, “BUT HILLARY” is NOT a serious answer here. We all know that her previous positions on both international trade and the US armed force which apparently underpins the steady expansion of their neocolonialist economic system would render her similarly objectionable.
Once we got past the posturous gushing about “First Female President” to actually start to assess her and her putative Administration on its actual merits, that is.
So in conclusion … I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some considerable empathy for Bannon at this point. My own previous role in politics – that of attempting to restrain some unabashedly negative sentiments and forces, and instead empower positive elements which occasionally even managed to make their way into actual outcomes … before being messily oustered as part of a long-running battle for the soul of an institution – may very well have clouded the impartiality and certainly the dispassionateness of my assessment of what’s gone on here.
But I stand by the idea that folk crowing about Bannon’s heading into exile are either deplorable sorts rather directly aligned with either of the neoliberal or neocon agendas … or that they’re hoodwinked lefty/liberal/progressive types who have been conditioned by the media etc. to believe that Bannon being forced out would represent some sort of grand and glowing victory , rather than the resumption of an even more oppressive pre-Bannon status quo.
Enjoy your Corporate Sovereignty-underpinning ‘Trade Deals’, and your ‘Boots On The Ground In Global Hotspots’, Liberals.
You’ve earned it.