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Category: Steve Bannon

Why Did The New Yorker Want Steve Bannon to Headline Their Festival?

Steve Bannon

So, Bannon was due to headline a New Yorker festival. People became upset and now he isn’t.

Why was he invited in the first place?

I’m not one of those who’ll argue that Bannon isn’t smart. He is–very much so. But there are plenty of very smart, and indeed smarter, people on the left. Chomsky has never headlined for the New Yorker, and he’s a straight-up genius.

Bannon was invited because what the alt-right/fascists want is something centrists can live with. Fascists are big believers in corporations. Under the Nazis, executive wages soared. They crushed unions and depressed wages. They managed unemployment by choosing entire classes of people to make non-people, and the rest of the population mostly got a job.

All of this is stuff that centrists can live with. Elevated executive compensation, pro-corporate policies, keeping unions, and the left down.

Remember, always, that Jews weren’t killed first. Socialists and anarchists were.

So the bottom line is that centrists are okay with fascists because fascists are pro-corporate and executive wealth.

(Oh, Bannon says the right things about the working class, but then Trump gives a huge tax cut to rich people and corporations.)

On the other hand, the left-wing is hostile to large corporations and high executive compensation. At the least, the left would highly regulate corporations and break many of them up, while slapping on 90 percent marginal tax rates and punitive estate taxes.

At the most, some left-wingers would nationalize corporations wholesale and redistribute wealth, or they might force employee ownership of corporations or some version of that.

All actual left-wingers would end the obscene system of over-payment in corporate America.

Left-wingers are an existential threat to centrists because centrists are, substantially, supporters of the status quo. The state of the US and the world is (or was before Trump) essentially good to them. The parts of the status quo that right-wingers want to overthrow don’t hurt centrists. The parts of the status quo that left-wingers want to overthrow do.

So Bannon is okay with them. They don’t really believe he means his class war rhetoric (Hitler didn’t). They are sure that they’ll still be okay under him.

They might not be right. But that’s their bet.

It’s a bet that has been made over and over again since WWII. US elites have always been willing to support right-wingers over left-wingers. You see it in almost every Latin American country. You saw it in Greece, in Iran, and so on, and you’ve seen it domestically–repeatedly.

The center prefers the center. But they’ll always choose the right over the left on anything that even slightly smells of economics, because they want to retain their wealth and the right will allow that and the left won’t.

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Those Who Fall with Steve Bannon

One interesting note about the Cambridge Analytica story was on Bannon’s role:

A few months later, in autumn 2013, Wylie met Steve Bannon. At the time, he was editor-in-chief of Breitbart, which he had brought to Britain to support his friend Nigel Farage in his mission to take Britain out of the European Union.

Steve Bannon

What was he like?

“Smart,” says Wylie. “Interesting. Really interested in ideas. He’s the only straight man I’ve ever talked to about intersectional feminist theory. He saw its relevance straightaway to the oppressions that conservative, young white men feel.”

Wylie meeting Bannon was the moment petrol was poured on a flickering flame. Wylie lives for ideas. He speaks 19 to the dozen for hours at a time. He had a theory to prove. And at the time, this was a purely intellectual problem. Politics was like fashion, he told Bannon.

“[Bannon] got it immediately. He believes in the whole Andrew Breitbart doctrine that politics is downstream from culture, so to change politics you need to change culture. And fashion trends are a useful proxy for that. Trump is like a pair of Uggs, or Crocs, basically. So how do you get from people thinking ‘Ugh. Totally ugly’ to the moment when everyone is wearing them? That was the inflection point he was looking for.”

Absent Bannon meeting Wylie, there is no Trump Presidency. That’s not the only inflection point, of course, but it is there.

Bannon’s a weird bird: nativist populist, very smart, rich himself, and apparently quite likable in person, which surprised people in Congress.

It was Bannon’s ideas which undergirded Trump’s rise, which gave him a leverage point. While initial reports suggested that Cambridge Analytica was related to Kushner, the core operation which mattered traces back to Bannon.

Meanwhile, since Bannon left Breitbart after falling out with Trump, it has lost half its readership.

I mention all this because one of the most important things is to grant our enemies their virtues: Bannon is smart, has social insight, can get along with most people (interviewers usually find him quite likeable), and he can execute on his ideas. He also is able to understand popular rage.

This is not to say that Bannon has no flaws. He couldn’t handle Trump. He was taken out by his own inclination to shoot his mouth off and not stay in the background. When people started seeing him as the power behind the throne it was obviously something that Trump would not stand for.

His world model is actually, pretty good. It doesn’t have to be entirely accurate, and it’s not; what it has to be is something with which enough people agree, and to the extent they will act on it, and it is.

Bannon saw where the pain was. He saw where the rage was. He assembled a team, found a front man, ran with it, and he won.

Then he lost, because his front man could win, but was a very flawed tool when it came to actually ruling.

I don’t know if Bannon has a second act. Second acts are hard. If he wants one, he has to position himself as the operator other people can work with.

And right now it looks like he’s doing that. He may well be back, after Trump, with a second attempt, learning from these lessons.

But he may be too damaged. There may be too much fallout from his methods. I don’t actually think that Analytica is the unprecedented act people are making it to be, I believe that many others will turn out to have scraped Facebook in much the same way (developers I know find it amusing that people think this is new).

But unprecedented act or not, it is a scandal, and depending on how Trump falls, the damage to Bannon may make him beyond the pale.

Meanwhile, the money behind the scenes, Robert Mercer, will look for another brilliant executor.

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Bannon Out

Steve Bannon

So, this is Steve Bannon’s last day at the White House.

I wrote that this would be a courtier’s White House, with a lot of knife fights, and with their victors determining a lot of policy.

Bannon’s a white nationalist and scum, of course, but he’s also the only senior advisor who wants to, say, raise taxes and do various other actually populist things. He hates Wall Street and wanted real checks on bankers power, etc.

Again, clearly a bad man, but someone who wanted some good things which will no longer be represented by anyone with the President’s ear. (Also, the popular things.)

It looks like Breitbart is very angry about this.

Bear in mind that two-thirds of Republicans approved of Trump’s speech on Charlottesville, with its equivalence between Nazis and and people protesting Nazis. Trump is impeachment-proof as long as the people who make up the majority of the primary base in the Republican party continue to support him.

But Breitbart has quite a bit of influence with such people.

From a pragmatic, Trumpian point of view, firing Bannon feels like a mistake. He should have been sidelined and given a nice desk and office and mostly inconsequential work. He will be far more of a problem to Trump outside than inside.

(Er, also, Bannon was against military intervention.)

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The Only Person with Sense in the Trump Administration…

Steve Bannon

…is Steve Bannon. (Yes, he’s a nasty nativist as well.)

In the last few days, Bannon has suggested increasing the top marginal rate to 44 percent and regulating Google and Facebook.

Both of these are good ideas. I’m sure that Bannon’s regulations of Facebook and Google might not be what I’d want, but the bottom line is that these are now the primary media organizations of the world: What people read or see is mostly determined by Google or Facebook–their algorithms and employees.

For example, three months ago, Google put out a new algo to reduce fake news. Result?

In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.

Hey! What a surprise. Major corporation does something which makes people who tend to think badly of major corporations read less!

The bottom line is simple: Two companies control most of what people read and that should be under democratic control. And that’s before we even get to how Google and Facebook have systematically taken control of advertising, diverting more and more of the profit to them and away from actual content creators.

This is similar to the problem of railroads before major highways and trucking: farmers could only get crops to market through railroads, so railroads took almost all the profits. We have forgotten, but farmers hated the railroads with a sickly passion, and for good reason.

Google and Facebook determine who gets read, the political and economic repercussions of which are massive. (And Facebook’s CEO quite clearly wants to be President.)

Bannon is right, whether you like his other politics or not.

As far as the Trump admin goes, Ivanka and Jared are the ones who try to mitigate the nasty social stuff (often failing) and Bannon is the only one who wants ordinary Americans to do well.

You can despise all three, with good reason, but understand the reality.

Oh, and “fake news”? It exists, but the hysteria around it is being ridden heavily by people you want nothing to do with. And no fake news so far has ever equaled the New York Times lies which helped sell the Iraq war.

Fake news hysteria among elites is really just them saying: “Our monopoly on lies is being taken away from us! Only approved lies should be allowed!”

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Steve Bannon In (and Out?) of Donald Trump’s Imperial Court

Steve Bannon

When I wrote about the Trump administration before it existed, I noted that the Trump administration would be an Emperor’s Court. Because Trump has few firm ideas of his own and is extremely easily influenced, the best courtiers would rule the roost and determine policy.

Steve Bannon, by current reports, is out of favor and may well be on his way out.

Coincidentally, Trump has missiled a Syrian airbase and dropped “the mother of all bombs.” Coincidentally, word is coming out of the White House that, hey, maybe NAFTA isn’t so bad. Coincidentally, China is no longer considered a currency manipulator.

When people started mocking Trump by calling Bannon president, I noted that it was an attack which might work, and word has also come out that Trump hated that.

Trump is defined by little more than vanity, and he puts family first.

And so Kushner and Ivanka, backed by the deep state and more traditional Republicans (of the “tax cuts and bomb foreigners” variety), have the upper hand.

There is no question that Bannon is a piece of work, but him losing so much influence is not an unmitigated good.  Bannon is a nativist.

He was the guy, along with Trump on the campaign trail, who wanted the Muslim ban, aye. But he also favored rewriting trade deals, hitting China on manufacturing (it is true that China no longer keeps its currency low, but they did for ages and it gutted US manufacturing), bringing those jobs back to America, improving relations with Russia, and, oh yeah, not getting involved in stupid Middle Eastern wars (aside from fighting ISIS).

The comment section of Breitbart, when Trump hit the Syrian airfield was nearly 100 percent dismayed–as much as the most fiercely anti-war leftists.

The practical result of Bannon’s disempowerment is that brown Americans and visitors would be treated better, and that’s good, but most of what Trump wanted to do that wasn’t Republican standard, for the good as well as bad, goes out with Bannon.

Trump is being trained, well. Firing missiles and dropping bombs has gotten him the best media coverage of his presidency so far.  The “serious people” love killing (the right) foreigners, and the foreign policy elite which was threatened by Trump/Bannon nativism is rushing to praise Donald.

Not coincidentally, I think that Trump and Republicans will suffer for it electorally.

This version of Trump might be as bad as Hillary on foreign affairs (remembers she called for the missile attack, and watch North Korea), and while he lacks her saving graces on social affairs, as Kushner and Ivanka gain influence, they may make Trump a lot better on social civil liberties.

Though very competent in his way, Bannon was never quite a Svengali (as with his fumbling of the immigration order), but he is the only person in the administration genuinely angry about what happened to the working and middle class in America, and how the financial crisis was handled by bailing out banks and fucking ordinary people.

If Bannon loses this fight completely, Trump will be little more than an overly capricious, yet standard, Republican President.

And, folks, Trump was never going to be Hitler and not improving relations with Russia is a disaster, whatever the propaganda machine may tell you. (And that Syria attack would not have happened if improving relations with Russia were still important.)

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Trump and the Resistance

So, the Resistance are doing something effective, and important: They are showing up to town halls and holding their congress members feet to the fire. This is what the Tea Party did, and it works. Combined with aggressive campaigning for down-ticket offices: state, municipal, school-board, and so on, this is where true power comes from.

Obama’s reign left the Democratic party a shambling ruins, with hardly any states under their control. The weakness at the federal level is only a shadow of the weakness at lower levels, so much so that the Republicans are within spitting distance of controlling enough States to get through constitutional amendments. (If they do, bend over and kiss your ass goodbye. If you’re smart, get the fuck out of the country.)

Liberals tend to think that Trump’s on the run. Sure, there’s been setbacks, but it’s worth remembering that the polls are, well, probably wrong, as they were running up to the election. Besides, general approval is irrelevant, even if the polling is correct. Trump is never going to win California, or New York, or Massachussets, and if those states oppose him en-masse it means little.

Traditional phone polls that use live interviewers — including some of the most trusted polls in politics and media — report limited support for Trump and the controversial executive orders he’s signed. But automated phone and Internet-based surveys tell a different story. Once the element of anonymity is added, the president’s approval ratings suddenly look a lot better.

In referring to an automated poll that put the president’s popularity in the black, Spicer actually understated Trump’s level of support. According to Rasmussen Reports’ most recent survey (released Friday), 54 percent of likely voters approved of the president’s job performance.

Some people are embarrassed to support Trump, but they do nonetheless, and his hard core support him very much. Further, his support among likely voters is his higher than his support among the general population.

The Resistance also has another problem: To win, Trump has to fail. This is bad in the sense that what Trump really needs to do to win is to deliver a decent economy to his core. Attacks on Kushner and Ivanka, for example, if those attacks succeed in reducing their influence, would actually make Americans worse off, because these are the sanest and kindest people who have significant influence over Trump. Likewise, while Bannon is a piece of work, the people who would replace him are an incoherent mess; evil without the silver lining of actually wanting a good economy for the working and middle class.

And if you get rid of Trump, you get Pence. He’ll make a lot less crazy headlines, but he’s a theocrat’s theocrat and an oligarch’s tool. He will be as bad as Trump in most ways and worse in others (for example, on gay rights).

Indiscriminate attacks on Trump’s advisers may make Trump fail (he’s vastly reliant on advice and guidance when it comes to policy), but they also risk railroading his and Pence’s presidencies into including all the bad and none of the good.

All this said, and at the end of the day, Trump’s fate is in his hands. If he can goose the economy, and replace Obamacare with something at least as good, and if he doesn’t allow Republicans to gut Social Security/Medicare, he’ll stay president and probably win re-election. If he doesn’t, he’s toast; either impeached or loses re-election.

But, for now, don’t believe all the numbers you’re being fed. Polling works badly with Trump; what matters is likely voters, and what really matters to them is if he delivers.

But the best form of resistance is the “In Your Face” kind: make the lives of Republicans and any Democrats who support him, personally miserable. If they are Democrats? Make it clear that you will primary them if they cooperate with Trump.

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Trump Is No Longer Trump

Stop thinking of Trump as Trump alone. He was never entirely that, and he’s definitely not that any more.

Trump is now Team Trump. The two most influential people in his court appear to be his son-in-law, Kushner, a fellow real-estate developer (and the guy who made the key strategic decisions which lead to Trump’s victor), and Bannon. Bannon is an economic nationalist with white nationalist leanings, who identifies with the working class and wants to bring manufacturing back to America. He’s quite willing to have a trade war to do it.

Priebus, the chief of staff, is also influential, but seems to be a bit of a drone. Trump’s children are influential, and it appears that Ivanka, his daughter, is the most influential of the three. She’s probably the most liberal person in the administration (even if she, strictly speaking, isn’t in the administration).

Trump has loaded up successful oligarchs and generals.

Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon

So, for example, his shift on China policy is in alignment with a lot of generals’ thinking (China is the real threat) and with what Bannon thinks (manufacturing jobs, economic nationalism).

His economic and labor policy will seek to both undermine labor rights and to spike the economy, which is essentially what authoritarians tend to do.

But the important point is that Trump, because he has only a few fixed ideas, even more than most Presidents, will be defined by the agendas of his closest advisers. To understand Trump’s moves, you need to understand his court.

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Don’t Underestimate Steven Bannon

First, I told you not to underestimate Trump (well, I’ve told you repeatedly), now I’m going to tell you not to underestimate Bannon, his chief strategist, rewarded for supporting him through everything from Breitbart.

Here’s Bannon:

“The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over. If we deliver we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.”

Pretty much. Now, it was not necessary to gut the American working class to create a middle class in Asia, there were win/win ways to alleviate poverty outside the developed world without fucking working class Europeans, Americans, and anyone else over. But those methods were not possible under neoliberalism.

That point is important, but irrelevant to what Bannon is saying. The way the world economy was run completely fucked a lot of people in America, the EU, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere and Bannon is right that if the Trump White House can deliver for enough people, they will get to rule DC and America for 50 years, like the Dems did from 1932 to 1980 (yeah, there were Republicans, but they governed as Democrats).

Bannon’s problem is simple enough: Trump doesn’t really believe. Oh, he doesn’t not believe either, Trump doesn’t have firm beliefs of most any sort, except that Trump is the best and that he wants people to adore and cheer him. Trump’s picks for the cabinet are the same old, same old–Goldman Sachs for Treasury, etc., and his tax cut program, whether Bannon understands it or not, will undercut any long-term prosperity for the working and middle class. If his health secretary gets to end Medicare, that will also be a disaster.

Doing that stuff will deny Bannon his 50 years.

But it won’t deny Trump his eight years, because all that’s really required in the US (or Europe) for what feels sort of like prosperity for a while, is to simply stop insane austerity policies and for the muscle in both areas to insist on jobs. You can cut worker’s rights at the same time, and it’ll work for a while. Hitler wasn’t an economic genius, and he gutted workers rights. But he did end idiot austerity and most workers were better off for a time. It’s a wasting strategy (Hitler needed war for his economy), but it works for a time.

In more immediate terms, Bannon, for all he is decried as a racist, is the person you want to win most of the Trump White House fights, at least if you care about ordinary people, because he’s the guy who wants ordinary Americans to do well, and he knows he needs Hispanics and Blacks to get jobs too. Contrary to what mainstream economists (over 90 percent of whom, I remind you, did not notice the housing bubble) say, Trump can use tariffs to bring a lot of jobs back. The manufacturer of iPhones (FoxConn) has already said, sure, they’re willing to build them in the US. They aren’t going to kiss a market like that goodbye.

But Trump’s tax cutting instincts work against this. Cutting taxes for corporations isn’t as effective as tariffs, because corporations already pay very low taxes, and multinationals pay damn near none, since they play various jurisdictions off against each other.

Bannon will also need easy money from the Fed, and need to direct that money to where he wants. Trump will get to replace most Fed governors, fairly soon, so he can certainly have a compliant Federal Reserve. Bear in mind that the Fed gave away trillions of dollars, and was giving away tens of billions a month for years. That money is an available slush fund for anyone smart enough to use it to do more than bail out bankers.

Bannon, I suspect, is smart enough. 80 billion a month can buy a lot of jobs if you use it effectively, which Obama’s Fed never did.

So Bannon is a key man in the White House. If you’re a partisan Democrat first and don’t give a fuck about the working class and middle class, especially in flyover country, then Bannon needs to lose his fights, because if he wins them, Trump gets elected again (though, as I note, I don’t think Bannon gets his 50 years, unless he’s far more clever even than he’s so far indicated (not impossible)).

This is going to be a very interesting White House and administration, simply because Trump does not have definitive views on many issues. Who wins these internal fights will determine the entire course of Trump’s presidency, and may well determine America’s (and the world’s) future for decades.

Place your bets and don’t underestimate these people.

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