• Daniel Ethan Finneran

Bannon Bats 0-2

December 2017

The magic is gone. The legerdemain’s touch is lost. The myth has been defeated. The sorcery that catapulted Donald Trump, the most improbable of presidential candidates this country has yet known, into the Oval Office has been completely depleted. Left sapped of his impact and beating his brow and racking his brain, is the man who once orchestrated history’s greatest political upset. This man, of course, is none other than the scrofulous shaman, Stephen K. Bannon.

From prophetic to pathetic, Bannon’s message has taken an unpropitious turn. First in Virginia (Bannon’s home state) and now in Alabama, voters have turned out en masse against his polarizing philosophy. It’s one, you’ll recall, rooted in the idea of economic nationalism—a term few other politicians ascribe to themselves. In its essence, the philosophy espouses an anti-globalist, quasi-mercantilist provincialism. It’s a mouthful, I know, but it can’t be as easily described without these inconvenient terms. It’s not so much a “worldview”—as that would require having interest in a world to view—but an inward-looking ideology. It views immigration, free trade, and economic liberalism as things to be eschewed. It sees Western civilization as having been corrupted by foreign peoples and by rapacious corporate greed.

All this, coming from an embittered elite. Although he wasn’t brought into this world a Brahman in a big city with a silver spoon, after a career such as his, he can’t tout blue collar bona fides, or continue claiming kinship with the everyman. He served in the Navy abroad and in Washington before going on to receive his MBA from Harvard University, and then making a fortune on Wall Street with Goldman Sachs, and then turning investment into immense profit in Hollywood. All this, he achieved before finding his current calling. That is, as a political savant, or better yet, snake-oil salesman for the Republican Party. He cozied up to Andrew Breitbart—whose eponymous website he now runs—and stumped at the forefront for the ill-fated likes of Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman.

He was thought by some conservatives to have an uncanny insight. They thought he had a finger, more sensitive and fine-tuned than theirs, on the party’s heartbeat. He, unlike them, could palpate the Right’s bounding but disaffected pulse. Because of this, his presence and foresight became much sought after. Conservative pundits and policy makers looked toward him and his website as if a weathervane. From his Breitbart bema, he spoke like only a demagogue could to the people’s frustrations. Be they perceived or real, these frustrations simmered and then boiled in a mix of “deplorables”, who were only too eager to share in Bannon’s discontent.

The rest, we know well. After Corey Lewandowski and then Paul Manafort were given their leave, Bannon took over as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in the season’s last leg. He helped push Trump to the finish line. To observers searching for an explanation as to how this unlikely victory came to pass, Bannon seemed like Trump’s talisman. He succeeded where Lewandowski and Manafort could not. He steered the Trump ship just enough to reach its destination. His reward was well-deserved. Once formally in office, Trump named him Chief Strategist—a role perfectly suited for his ambition and panoptic vision.

From the outset, this marriage—that of Bannon and Trump—was bound to be a strange affair. They do share some fundamental ideals, but the two men are very much two sides of a coin, if not two different currencies altogether. Trump, on the one hand, behaves on a whim; he’s untrammeled by ethos or strategy. As for philosophy—this “Trumpism” we hear so much about? It’s not only a non-entity, but it’s never existed at all. The only thing in Trump that’s manifest and consistent is his infatuation with appearance. Bannon, on the other, is broad-minded, narrowly-focused, and always calculating. He has a philosophy that suffuses everything he does. As for appearances…they’re much at the back of his mind. He struts in slovenliness, allergic to the august, tailored Upper West Side world from which Trump descends.

The two were unlikely bedfellows, but for a while, their relationship worked. Most of Trump’s earliest moves were assumed to have had Bannon’s blessing. These included the Muslim “ban”, the stepping away from the Paris Accord, and the institution of the “RAISE” immigration act. Eventually, though, the two men bristled, became estranged, and Bannon resigned late in the summer.

Since then, he’s returned home to Breitbart to harangue Liberals and promote Trump’s agenda “from the outside”. The website, with his return to its editorship and under his direction, is as impassioned, unprepossessing, and vitriolic now as it had ever been. There’s no doubt that he can do more for the marginalized and “alt” Right on Breitbart than he could’ve in the West Wing.

But he’s also taken on another role. Even though his tenure in the Trump administration was brief, till this day, he’s still considered to be its centerpiece. And since Trump is still the Republican Party’s standard-bearer, Bannon—by extension—remains the party’s go-to guy.

He’s parlayed his expired role as Chief Strategist into an ex officio role as a Republican virtuoso. In this capacity, he’s been campaigning throughout America.This first brought him to Virginia, his home state, as I said. There, he campaigned fervently for Ed Gillespie, who ended up losing by a landslide to Democrat Ralph Northam. Doctor Northam’s victory might’ve augured ill for Bannon personally and Republicans more generally, but Bannon excused the loss by saying that Gillespie simply didn’t embrace “Trumpism” hard enough.

From one state’s governorship lost, Bannon turned his attention to a would-be “gimmie” state that should’ve easily stayed red: Alabama. There, the infamous senate race was underway. Looking back, now that it’s said and done, I think the race will live long in the nation’s memory—as much as we might want to forget it. Nevertheless, Bannon played an integral part in the losing Republican effort.

In the senate primary, which pitted the incumbent Luther Strange against the reactionary Roy Moore, Bannon chose the latter. So too did Alabamians, and all hell broke loose soon thereafter. Moore was set to contend with the Democrat, Doug Jones in a race that should’ve been handily one, when the sexual allegations poured out to the press. Accounts from numerous teenage girls, one as young as fourteen, alleged with credibility and consistency that Moore sexually harassed, assaulted, and preyed on them when he was the state’s district attorney.

Bannon might’ve, at this point, rescinded his support for Roy Moore and instead urged voters to write in a candidate. President Trump, for his part, might’ve done the same. Trump was equivocating when the allegations first arose, perhaps waiting to see how his erstwhile advisor would respond. But instead of biting his lip and conceding that Moore was an unsavory, unpalatable choice, Bannon decided to double down. He jet-set from L.A. to Alabama, pulling out all stops to rally for Moore. Doug Jones accused him of carpet-bagging, a charge he couldn’t contest, but Bannon was all-in. Right behind him, and perhaps because of him, was President Trump—also now all-in.

And here we stand. Save for President Trump—whose personality and perfect-storm circumstances set him apart from all other Republican candidates—Bannon has been nothing short of a failure. He’s proven himself an inauspicious horse, one to which you’d do well not to hitch your wagon. He looks less and less like the conservative chef d’école he was once thought to be, and more like its inextricable burden. Following his primrose path will spell electoral doom come 2018. Sooner or later, Republicans will have to realize that Bannon is a mountebank, not a messiah.

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