Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Bloated Man Behind The Curtain

I'm reluctant to endorse conspiratorial "evil Bond villain" hypotheses about people like Steve Bannon.  I find those theories lazy and chock full of rhetorical fallacies.  However, I do think much of what we see that is so very troubling about the Trump Regency can be laid at Bannon's feet.  Peter Daou lays out the structures pretty well.

Bannon and Trump overlap in one critical regard: they are both chaos agents; they both see conflict as the purpose of power, rather than a negative side effect.  Trump shares enough of Bannon's ethnonationalism to allow him to cede important parts of his presidency to the crypto-fascist running his administration.  Because Trump is too lazy and intellectual deficient to manage his own administration, beyond the broad rhetoric of his campaign-style rallies, Bannon is free to more or less set the agenda.

I'm guessing yesterday's decision to ban CNN, the NY Times, BBC and Politico from the briefing is a decision that came from Bannon and was heartily endorsed by Trump.  Trump needs an foil, an enemy to give him energy and purpose.  Since most institutions in DC are either held by the GOP or -like the intelligence community - have the ability to serious fuck his shit up, Trump has to find an enemy that is simultaneously strong enough to be a legitimate target and institutionally weak enough to be a ready punching bag.  The media are perfect.  People already don't like or trust them, so attack them.  The people that are upset by this are the sort of centrist tote-baggers who clutch their pearls and fret about norms, but have largely abandoned Trump already.

Plus, the damage that Trump might be doing to himself is irrelevant to Bannon.  Bannon clearly sees himself and his role as separate from Trump, who is really a useful tool for Bannon's plans to remake western political institutions in an ethno-nationalist model.  Hence the attacks on the EU, NATO, the UN and basic institutions like the press and the courts.

Bannon - unlike the impulsive Trump - has a plan.  Here is a critical passage about the media:

"They're corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has," he said. "Here's why it's going to get worse: Because he's going to continue to press his agenda. And as economic conditions get better, as more jobs get better, they're going to continue to fight. If you think they're going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day, it is going to be a fight. And that is what I'm proudest about Donald Trump."

Here we can see both the political insight and the economic folly of the Trump/Bannon agenda.  Economic nationalism is unlikely to lead to better economic outcomes.  We are about seven years into the recovery from 2008.  We are starting to see real wages rise.  However, if they are serious about a border tax/tariff and we combine that with stripping away oversight of Wall Street, then we can anticipate inflationary pressures from a tariff, job losses as other country's throw up tariffs, financial fraud and the inevitable slackening of growth that comes at the end of a recovery.

If they really think protectionism will lead to more jobs, then they are about 80 years behind the times.  It's possible that modern economics are wrong and these two untrained yahoos are right.  Bannon and Trump share one area of expertise: media manipulation.  That's not the same as economics.

Bannon's role will be interesting to watch.  He lacks the political clout of Trump and Trump's relationship with the Trumpenproletariat, and if they can find him being disloyal to Trump, he could be jettisoned.  He is quite literally the immediate problem.  Getting rid of him won't solve everything, but it would be a nice first step.

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