To my immense surprise, not to say outright shock, I seem to be feeling a little sorry for Steve Bannon.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with a single word he says. In fact, I think many of his opinions are downright detestable. And, worse, he’s done a lot to legitimize ideas that should have died out a long time ago…like White Nationalism.
Let’s confess that almost alone among the current denizens of the White House he has a brain in his head. He is genuinely intelligent. He has ideas (wrong ideas, I think, but he has them) and he has thought about issues. More important, he believes in something. He has an ideology. It is not an ideology that any of us would support. In fact, I think his peculiar combination of racism, reactionism, and nationalism could prove deadly to us all.
But, he believes in something. Which, as I’ve said before, can’t be said about the rest of the current government. Trump himself, I think, cannot hold opinions. His brain is not constructed to do so. Rather, words and tweets and ideas enter his head, whirl about madly for a time, and then exit again, leaving room for the next collection of gibberish to take their place.
And the rest of them? His cabinet and staff are, for the most part, opportunists, doing and saying anything required to keep their jobs. They have no ideology, other than their own survival.
But, Bannon is different. He is genuinely sincere. Alas that he is sincere in a cause that is genuinely terrible.
Still, I do feel sorry for him. Consider, just a short while ago, he was in the White House. He was Trump’s most trusted advisor. In Michael Wolf’s Fire and Fury, we learn that he easily manipulated Trump, leading him in directions that he would have otherwise never dreamed of going.
Oh, and an aside, if you want evidence of Bannon’s unusual intelligence, consider that he once characterized his role at the White House as being like that of “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.” How many others in the Trump circle would make that comparison? Or even know who Thomas Cromwell was? Or, for that matter, who the Tudors were?
And thus, he was at the height of his power.
But then came the fall…
First, he lost influence in Trump’s circle. Then his most important ally, Reince Priebus, lost his head in a power struggle with Anthony Scaramucci, himself doomed to fall quite soon. Then came Bannon’s ill-considered remarks in Prospect magazine in an interview with Robert Kuttner. Then, finally, he ran afoul of John Kelly.
And he was gone.
But his humiliation had only begun. He returned to the online magazine, Breitbart, which he’d made so successful. For a time, it seemed he would retain some glory…if not as a member of government then as editor of the nation’s most terrifyingly reactionary publication.
Until the Wolf book revealed that Bannon had considered Trump a fool…and the billionaire backers of Breitbart, Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah Mercer, promptly tossed him out on his ear.
What anguish it must have been. What mortification!
He had thought he was important and unique…the American Charles Maurras, philosopher, social critic, driving intellectual force…when, in fact, all he’d been was a hireling, employed by the obscenely rich to convey their diseased doctrine of Ayn Rand worship to all and sundry, and eminently disposable. When he got above himself, when he got out of line, that’s just what they did. They tossed him out with the trash, and with no more regret than you’d give a tissue or a candy wrapper.
What will be his future? Hard to say, of course. At the moment, he still has the power to command notice. I see he’s been saying something predictably outrageous about saving the patriarchy. But, come, let us confess. That may be a short-lived power. Even political celebrities have limited shelf lives.
So, what is he to do?
Here is my advice. He will not take it. Since I’m sure he doesn’t read LR Net, I’m certain he’ll never see it. But, I will offer it anyway.
Go Left Young Man.
Or rather Middle Aged White Guy. Go Left. The Right has no more use for you. It will not accept you back, at least not on the terms you want.
But if you were to undergo a dramatic conversion…if you announce that you are still an American nationalist, but that in your time in the political wilderness you had discovered as well Social Democracy…if you came over to the Light Side of the Force…
There might well be a role for you.
Think about it. You have already proved your ability to motivate the angry, the frightened, and the dispossessed. Transfer your allegiances. Lead those men and women into the light…help to rebuild America as an equalitarian, progressive, democratic state…
And you will have your place in history.
Well, that’s what I’d advise, anyway. As I say, he won’t ever hear me. Even if he did, I’m sure he’d disregard me. I am, after all, a prominent nobody. At best, to steal a line from the Thurber cartoon, he’d be amused by my naïve presumption.
But I think I’m probably right. I think, in the long run, Bannon is at serious risk. If he remains as he is, then he could very easily join that long line of men and women who set out to challenge the bourgeois order from the hard right… Lawrence Dennis, Seward Collins…so many others…
And who, for a time, succeeded brilliantly. Only to fall from the favor of the rich and the powerful…
And end in isolation, solitude, and…