By Luke Haines
It’s hard to take Steve Bannon seriously. Sure, people who know him describe him as “scarily smart”, but these are the same people who think it’s a good idea to be involved in the Trump administration; it’s like being described as “tall” by your fellow Oompah Loompas.
After a spectacularly failed career as a screenwriter, Bannon — a man who looks like the zombie who is always picked last for the undead soccer team — has carved out a second career in the same place as many embittered, failed men: the political far right.
Despite the fact that this is a man who couldn’t sell a script in Hollywood — a town that thought “The Emoji Movie” would be a winner — we shouldn’t dismiss Bannon out of hand. Even if “dismissed out of hand” was exactly the way he left the White House. Bannon is still out there, and has sworn to continue Trump’s agenda from a public position.
At this point, I feel it is my duty to issue a warning. Part of my job on this site is to offer a transatlantic perspective on American politics. As Britain declined as the premier world power after World War Two, to be replaced by America, Harold MacMillan said that it was Britain’s job to offer guidance — to act as Athens to America’s Rome. These days, it feels more like my job is to act as the guy with the “End Is Nigh” placard to America’s… whatever the hell you think you’re doing right now. But the point stands: In the U.K., we’ve seen this scenario before.
The man on the right is Nigel Farage, an ex-investment banker who serves as the great, unflushable turd of British politics. He hung around the fringes of the British political scene for years, claiming to be a straight-talking man of the people despite his vast personal fortune. His whole schtick was that foreigners were ruining Britain, specifically through the laws of the European Union.
His was a xenophobic, fringe movement which, like Trumpism, found fertile ground in the minds of the angry, gullible and racist. Also like Trumpism, it improbably bore fruit: Due in large part to Farage’s hectoring, the United Kingdom voted by a margin of just 2% to commit economic suicide and leave the EU.
With Steve Bannon outside of the White House, he has already hinted darkly about Trump supporters starting a civil war with establishment Republicans. If this happens, and the Breitbart/Trump people splinter off into their own faction, we’ll be looking at an American version of Farage’s UK Independence Party.
Again, the natural instinct amongst intelligent people is to dismiss such madness out of hand. Certainly, the sort of rabid Trumpists that such a party would be comprised of SHOULD be ignored. However, the U.K. serves as a stark example of how much damage such people can do — some UKIP candidates are demonstrably mentally ill, but their movement still pushed the British political conversation into an area that led the entire country to make a decision from which it may honestly never recover.
Just because Bannon looks like the White Walkers resurrected the corpse of Norm from Cheers doesn’t mean he should be underestimated. The independent far-right movement he is threatening to spearhead could cause untold damage. The current Republican establishment, who serve as a kind of Diet Evil, should be worried.
Even if this threatened schism causes the more moderate Republicans to jump ship and join the Democrats, the damage will be huge. It will serve to drag the Dems further right to accommodate their new membership, until there is no political left remaining in American public discourse. The nominal “left” will be anyone who believes there should be any form of state whatsoever, the middle ground will be Hitler and the far right will be whatever eldritch horrors Bannon is attempting to summon.
Like the fairytale monster he resembles, Steve Bannon only has power as long as people believe in him. At the very least, it’s time to stop paying him attention. More than this, however, it’s time for the left to start offering alternative viewpoints that voters can grasp before the right becomes the centre ground.
Luke Haines is our British correspondent. He occasionally tweets as @lukedoughaines