|Gray-green Eminence: Stephen Bannon as depicted on the cover of Time. 2 February 2017, via Flickr.|
Actually why is Stephen Bannon important again?
Really?Exclusive: I’ll be interviewing Steve Bannon on @ThisWeekABC Sunday morning. His first live Sunday show interview ever.— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) June 15, 2018
I started noticing something like a Bannon comeback around a week ago, when he turned up in back-to-back articles in the Times as a crucial window into the Trumpian mind, that hilarious Mark Landler piece on Trump's deep study of the North Korea issue—
“To the president, ‘duck and cover’ and the Cuban missile crisis were formative experiences,” said Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist. “He knows the Korean War hasn’t ended, and he can accomplish what destroyed his idol, General MacArthur.”And the next day in the latest iteration of the "Trump feels emboldened and is taking over now" theme, by Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers:
But it seems to me there might be something else going on, like a Bannon bid for real power among the Emperor's courtiers, backed with the money of whoever is financing the ad campaign (a Mercer?). As evinced by the ongoing erratic shifts in foreign policy, the random and self-defeating tariffs, the shocking behavior at the G7, the revived complaints about NATO funding and the basing of North Korea policy on the desire to save money—all those expensive flights from Guam—and generally reject not militarism but military cooperation with anybody. And a turn toward Russia in the sudden talk about a summit with Putin to follow Trump's "success" with Kim; I think also possibly a turn away from Saudi Arabia (in his recent criticism of OPEC over rising oil prices, as if they weren't his fault for backing out of the Iran deal, in line with Putin's desire to increase production and let prices go back down a bit; though KSA now seems to have given in to Russia anyway). And out of the blue he's communing with Central Europe's most successful fascist politician, congratulating him on an election of two months ago, or new government sworn in May 18:
Seems pretty thoroughly Bannonistic—Bannonical?—to me.NEW: Pres. Trump spoke to Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, White House says.— ABC News (@ABC) June 16, 2018
"Both leaders agreed on the need for strong national borders." https://t.co/4S4OYZQVwI pic.twitter.com/QBhGX6Nh4x
That Haberman-Rogers article gave me the sense of having a subtext radically different from the "Trump is confident" narrative of the surface—I mean, really pretty spooky. When Trump left for Charlevoix last week, they wrote,
Haberman and Rogers say we see the situation differently on the outside than insiders do, but it's far from clear that the insiders know better; I think we have to assume that the journalists are seeing themselves in the outsider category, and the insiders, at least those few who aren't in the process of fleeing, may be delusional, as in the first of these paragraphs, or making a distinction without a difference, as in the second (if he's always been the way he is right now, just more easily restrained, that's not very reassuring: as he carries through the project of getting rid of all the mean babysitters and keeping only the cool ones, he may be the same person on the inside, but his behavior will keep getting worse):
That is, the lede may suggest that he's calming down, but the details say he'll be crazier. The other thing is, the loss of professionally able people—Kelly, for instance, who's said to be really anxious to leave, and his deputy Joe Hagin, while Zachary Fuentes,
but the president may not have been informed that he exists:
John Kelly also raised eyebrows by promoting his former military aide to a senior position. Several senior administration officials doubted Trump was aware that Zach Fuentes is now a deputy chief of staff. https://t.co/ZQ7G5p2hFp— Michael C. Bender (@MichaelCBender) June 15, 2018
And increasingly relies on advice from entirely outside the White House—the slimy martinet Cory Lewandowski, the vile Citizens United head David Bossie, who was so corrupt during the Bill Clinton scandals era as an investigator that Dan Burton and Newt Gingrich had to dump him, now billed as Trump's personal friend—and, by implication, Bannon, suddenly available to every news outlet in town.
He's de-skilling or de-professionalizing the quality of the advice he gets, creating a kind of demeritocracy, as he turns more and more away from people with relevant backgrounds and toward people he fancies for arbitrary reasons, often people that seem to have attracted him with dodgy characters similar to his own. He seems to think getting rid of the people who "too frequently say no to him" will add to his power or his freedom of action, but that is fortunately not the case. If anything, it's the opposite:
With no effective support, he's limiting himself to actions he can perform himself, or order up like room service ("Two quarter-pounders with cheese and some import taxes on Scotland, please, I hate those fuckers"), to make himself feel potent. For which Bannon has lots of suggestions; they're just the kind of dumb-ass pompous actions he wants to see done.