The Post-Bannon White House

Alan Zendell, August 20, 2017

Did you hear that collective sigh of relief when Steve Bannon was dismissed from the White House? It felt good, and it’s a step in the right direction, but we should be careful not to pin too many hopes on it. The only thing it means for sure is that his security clearance was revoked. It better have been because not doing so immediately would be both criminal and impeachable.

We need to look closely at what his departure means, for that matter what his presence meant in the first place. Steve Bannon is a vicious, unrelenting ideologue who brought tabloid-style journalism to a right wing extremist internet website. His style is a perfect match for Trump’s. Hard-hitting, unapologetic, prone to hyperbole, and willing to invent or distort facts whenever it suits him. As with the president, appearances are always more important than truth.

It was love at first sight for the candidate desperate for attention and support. Love and an ill-advised rush to the altar. In what universe does the President of the United States appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist who weighs in with considerable influence on everything POTUS says and does? That should have told us everything we needed to know.

Like most marriages based on infatuation, this one didn’t work out because like Trump, Bannon bows to no one, and that’s the one thing our I-always-have-to-be-right president cannot tolerate. But Bannon didn’t care. He said he never intended it to be long term, and we should believe him. The divorce occurred because when you work for Trump your only agenda can be blind loyalty, and Bannon has had his own agenda all along.

He crowed about it in interviews given even before his departure was official. He wasn’t just trying to drive this president to create the distorted world of Alt-right nirvana, he was a master spy gathering intelligence for the next act in his own script. He’s been privy to every classified briefing Trump attended since the election. He knows everything that has made Trump’s White House a clown car of dysfunction. He knows all the players intimately, their strengths, weaknesses, and insecurities. Bannon himself said he’s now armed to crush his opposition, and don’t be surprised if that includes POTUS if he veers too far from the Bannon mantra.

So yes, let’s be grateful that our president who repeatedly promised to represent the needs and desires of all Americans no longer has the Grim Reaper perched on his shoulder. But they may still have long late-night unmonitored phone conversations when Trump’s not busy tweeting. Bannon may be gone, but the festering odor he left in his wake will not be easy to eradicate. And some of that stink will have a long life of its own if Trump doesn’t act to cleanse it.

We saw one aspect of it in Charlottesville last week, but that was only Act One. The White Supremacists and neo-Nazis have been itching for full-fledged race war for years. They’re like a deadly virus that never goes away but lies dormant everywhere waiting for an opening, and the Trump-Bannon partnership, whether or not they intended to, gave them exactly what they wanted. They thought they could use race to stir up chaos and expand Trump’s base. But it never occurred to them that they couldn’t control the racists once they were activated. Deadly viruses sometimes escape confinement, and when they do, all hell can break loose.

The Nazis and White Supremacists use the same tactics as Trump and Bannon. Goad, taunt, do everything short of throwing the first punch, hoping that someone on the other side eventually will, and then it’s no holds barred. (If you haven’t seen the Vice News interview with the fascist Chris Cantwell, you must.) That’s what they hoped would happen in Charlottesville when the more militant leftist groups showed up. It didn’t happen, and when one of their own whackos lost it and drove his car into a crowd with murderous intent, the air should have gone out of their balloon. But our wonderfully insensitive president kept it afloat.

There are some angry violent people among the resisters, but regardless of Trump’s distorted view, they didn’t take that Nazis’ bait in Charlottesville, and neither did the huge crowd of protesters in Boston, yesterday, so the race war was postponed for at least another week. Massive peaceful protests are the only thing that will suppress the latest Nazi uprising until the media no longer find it profitable to cover them.

The essential point is, the White Supremacists wouldn’t have had an opening if Trump, goaded by Bannon, hadn’t resorted to pandering to scum and hate, and his inability to separate the haters from everyone else and call them what they are continues to energize them. That’s the legacy of the Trump-Bannon marriage. I’m glad it’s over, but that doesn’t mean we’ve seen the last of it.

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