Bannon's Bombshell Implodes
Of chief importance to the parasite is not letting itself be known. It’s in keeping a low-profile, in finding a nook on an underbelly and staying subtle and discreet. There, nestled in a soft tuft or furry paunch, it can sip its hosts blood. It does so, comfortably and safely out of the reach of a scratching finger or a seeking doctor’s eye. It’ll grow, its head and ego swelling in proportion, until it’s become unsustainably large. Then, just as quickly as it latched on, it’ll let go, taking with it the strength that it stole.
But just ask the tick or the fluke and they’ll tell you, life isn’t long-lived without one’s host. The world becomes a much less habitable and much more hostile place than ever it was before. And, unfortunately, one can’t just go back to the same old well for one final sip—the same teat for one last suckle. Oh no. Now, you’re known, and if your host isn’t completely drained of his vigor, his new lease on life is thriving and on the lookout.
President Trump is the host, Steve Bannon the parasite, and never has the one been better off since the latter’s gone away. Without his former chief strategist pulling the strings, Trump—for the first time in his presidency—has been able to achieve substantial and lasting victories. Republicans cut from every cloth are cheering the de-certification of Iran’s Nuclear Deal, the cessation of Pakistan’s funding, the relocation of Israel’s embassy to Jerusalem, and the legislation that will introduce to the American economy its largest tax cut since the Reagan years. Conservatives, all of them once wary of Trump’s fidelity to the right-wing and its causes, are witnessing an unexpected boon. After months of frustrated infighting, they’re seeing success build upon success, and it all points to a propitious year to come.
But lest we forget, each victory has one thing in common: it was won in the absence of Steve Bannon. Since Bannon’s ouster in mid-August, the Trump White House has enjoyed unprecedented success (measured by its own humble yardstick, not by that of any administration past). This strikes many as being odd. Bannon was supposed to be the philosopher-king, the enlightened sage beneath his slovenly veneer. His heady “economic nationalism” was supposed to intoxicate the nation and spur a generation into prosperity. It was meant to be the intellectual frame upon which Trump could drape his populism. Too often it seemed that Trump’s success was a matter of caprice and his own je ne sais quoi or personal appeal. It needed something more and in Bannon, there was a fertile philosophy that could undergird Trump’s popularity. So, Bannon married Trump’s “Trumpism” with his own newfangled “-ism” and sired an empty ideology.
Opportunistic is a kind word, parasitic more unsparing, but whichever you attribute to him, you must admit, Bannon was successful in doing what he did. For no less than a year, he had an outsized impact on the administration. So much so, in fact, that he was given for a brief while the clearance to sit in on the National Security Council meetings. More importantly, though, he had the president’s ear. He was the strongest proponent of the ill-conceived and worse enacted travel ban and the chief advocate for America’s removal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Accord. And it’s been said, among more than a few staunch Trump apologists, that it was Bannon who planted the “both sides” seed in the president’s head following the Charlottesville attack. How much of this is true, it’s difficult to say, but the point is that Bannon’s role was not insignificant.
Trump sought him for counsel and saw within him a kindred spirit. This, perhaps more than anything else, perplexed many Americans. They saw in Bannon and Trump two incompatibly different men. How is it, they asked, that this blowhard and this billionaire got together to be a team? To answer that, it’s necessary to look beneath their appearances, be they expensive suits or five-o’clock stubble. There, you’ll see that Trump and Bannon are really quite alike. Both have the fluttering heartbeat of a narcissist and the misguided mindset of a savant. Between the two, there’s never stood a camera that didn’t lure them in nor a microphone that didn’t demand them speak. Both share a delusion of grandeur which, in different ways, guides their every move and inspires their success.
While Trump always had his eye on the Oval Office, Bannon always had pretentions of presidential connections; this much was clear when he latched on to Sarah Palin’s campaign in 2004. Ultimately, though, it would be through Trump that he would realize his goal. But the passage of time soured rather than strengthened their relationship. Trump bristled at the swirling rumors that his “America First” agenda was Bannon’s and not his own, and Bannon, perhaps too smitten by the gossip, grew more and more vain. He became bumptious and had an on-going feud with the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. He also became loquacious, spilling his thoughts first to the American Prospect and then to Michael Wolff, the journalist whose forthcoming book has all of Washington astir.
Set to release January the 9th, Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury is said to read like a Bannon confessional. In it, he’s quoted as having called Donald Trump Jr. “treasonous” and “unpatriotic” after the younger Trump met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who promised him dirt on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign. Bannon went on in subsequent interviews to belittle Ivanka Trump’s intelligence and question Jared Kushner’s fitness for the job. In so doing, Bannon waded into dangerous territory. Above all else, the president holds in the highest esteem his good name. For all the bluster, his name is his brand and it’s his family, and that’s something he cherishes most in this world. It’s the five letters that, adorned on any necktie or high-rise or attached to a first name, evoke luxury and ensure a dynasty. This is what Bannon lambasted on his way out. He muddied the family name and trampled on Trump’s brand, and he did so from the inside of the president’s circle.
Such is where we find Steve Bannon today—hanged, drawn, and quartered, condemned and marooned, straddling a political purgatory. In a scathing written response, the president eviscerated his former chief strategist. He said that Bannon was a mere “staffer” who had “very little to do” with his presidential victory. He continued, acerbically, to say that, when fired, Bannon “not only lost his job, but he lost his mind”. He then punctuated and summed up best his relationship with Bannon (and likely, anyone’s relationship with Bannon) by saying that Bannon is “only in it for himself”.
This scorched-earth screed did what it set out to do; it painted Bannon as a duplicitous nobody, a turncoat not to be trusted or believed. and it attacked the legitimacy of the facts appertaining to Wolff’s book. It was caustically crafted, and one gets the impression that if it wasn’t indeed Trump’s hand that penned it, there must’ve been an attentive scribe capturing every word that flowed from his moment of pique.
Silence can say much, and in not responding immediately to the White House or to Wolff, Bannon spoke volumes. It would be five days before he would comment on the situation and the quotes Wolff alleged him to have said. On the fifth day, a Saturday, Bannon tried to save face—or what of it remained. He fawned and groveled and called Don Jr. a patriot. He called the president a “great man”, one he supports “day in and day out”. Unfortunately, though, it was too little and too late. Rebekah and Robert Mercer, upon whose largesse Bannon relies, announced they’d be severing ties with him. The Mercers, like the Kochs or the Steyers, are an incredibly influential and well-endowed mega-donor team. They were largely responsible for bringing Bannon to prominence at Breitbart and for getting him aboard the Trump campaign. But, in the past few months, they’d grown tired of his pugnacity and his tendency to hitch wagons to losing horses. He’d failed to advance his and the Mercer’s agenda in Wisconsin, Virginia, and Alabama during congressional, gubernatorial, and senatorial campaigns. He was always quibbling and seldom constructive. The Mercers, like the president, had simply had enough.
And now, by burning him and setting him free, they’ve rid themselves of this gnawing political parasite. But what’s next for this detached tick or forsaken fluke? It’s hard to say. Bannon is absolutely tenacious and reliably successful in everything he does. It’s a success he’s parlayed from Wall Street to Hollywood to D.C. As for now, though, he’ll likely retreat, bruised but not beaten, to a small corner of his dedicated base. There, he’ll push on with his economic nationalism and cudgel any status quo conservative that gets in his way. And, should Wolff’s book prove less credible than its author’s claims, Bannon will be made to look all the better. He can say, assuming anyone gives him the time of day to listen, that he was misrepresented by a pulpy political fabulist. Until then, though, he won’t be sinking his claws or his teeth into anyone any time soon.