Exit Steve Bannon

August 20, 2017 - 2:4

It would be nice to think the departure of Steve Bannon, chief strategist in a strategy-free White House, signals that President Trump is oh-so-gradually closing the door on white nationalist sentiments.

But that would require forgetting that Trump fostered birther lies and racist memes long before he worked with Bannon, who saw in him a vessel for a more developed nativist agenda.

Bannon’s exit is, of course, a relief. As the well-financed Pied Piper of the alt-right Breitbart crowd, Bannon at the pinnacle of White House policy making was a nightmare come to life.

But Bannon, who promptly returned to Breitbart as its executive chairman on Friday, still poses a danger for our broader politics. Outside the White House, he is freer to rally his forces against anyone who doesn’t toe his nationalist-protectionist line. A Bannon-led right-wing backlash against Trump, who unleashed the worst impulses of nationalists in service to himself, would be a fitting comeuppance.
Bannon’s exit marks a new level of chaos in an administration that’s been defined by chaos.

Bannon is the architect of some of Trump’s most noxious isolationist and anti-immigrant policies. But he was also a voice against some of Trump’s worst excesses, like his firing of James Comey, the FBI director; his abusive campaign against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; and his appointment of Anthony Scaramucci, an inexperienced Wall Street loyalist, as communications director. Bannon supported the appointment of John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, whose desire to impose some semblance of order in the White House played a role in Bannon’s departure. He disparaged the ideas of using force against North Korea and of expanding military involvement in Afghanistan.

Bannon is commonly known as the Pepe the Frog reptilian brain of the Trump presidency, the bomb-thrower of the far-right fringe whose rage and intolerance were egged on by Trump. But Bannon was more wily and complicated than his now-former boss.

While he smiled upon the white nationalists in their “Make America Great Again” caps, his agenda has more to do with stoking nationalist fervor against foreign trade, overseas military involvement and big-money Washington elitism than simply courting the neo-Nazi “collection of clowns” and “losers,” as he called them in a wild interview with The American Prospect, a liberal journal, this week.

While Trump drifted aimlessly away from promises of health care “insurance for everyone,” middle-class tax cuts and expanded job creation, Bannon argued for maintaining a clearer bead on the needs of working-class voters who blamed an out-of-touch Washington for ills from joblessness to opioid addiction. His departure liberates him to advocate a program of “economic nationalism” that many Trump voters say they voted for.

“Devil’s Bargain,” a new book about the Bannon-Trump linkup that gives Trump second billing, credits Bannon as one of the first conservatives to recognize that attacks on Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation’s courting of foreign leaders and wealthy elites wouldn’t stick unless they resonated beyond the right-wing echo chamber, a feat he helped accomplish in 2016. Backed by this knowledge, the Breitbart megaphone and wealthy ultraconservatives, Bannon is a potentially more damaging force to both parties now. Still, good riddance, and let’s hope other unqualified ideologues, like Sebastian Gorka, the Islamophobic foreign policy adviser, follow Bannon out the door.

(Source: The NYT)

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