All signs suggest we’re now in the “President Trump has full confidence in Michael Flynn” phase of Steve Bannon’s tenure in the Trump White House. I don’t know whether this is some moron genius dialectic on Bannon’s part or just Karma. But can we miss that the man who gave coherence and verve to Trump’s campaign against the ‘globalists’ and unrooted cosmopolitan elites is about to be booted by the President’s Jewish tycoon son-in-law and a group of bankers (yes, Jewish bankers) from Goldman Sachs? These are I confess uncomfortable observations, but consider this …
It is always important to remember that Steve Bannon came late to Trump’s campaign. As pro-Trump as Breitbart News may have been, it was still seen – understandably – as a wild, suicidal and entirely unexpected development when Bannon was put in charge of the campaign on August 17th, 2016, almost a month after the Republican convention.
Before then, Trump had run a thoroughly jingoistic and xenophobic campaign, with protestor beatings and various shades of crypto- and non-crypto racism. All on his own he drew around himself that coterie of “alt-right” white nationalists and neo-Nazis who will likely be his greatest and most lethal contribution to the American political scene. But it was only with Bannon’s arrival that Trump took on the much more coherent and consistent language of Europe-derived rightist nationalism, anti-“globalism” and the thinly covert language of anti-Semitism.
Let’s be clear. This is no defense of Trump. It was all there all along from rage and intuition and impulse. But Bannon packaged it together and tailored the suit. It was pure Bannon, remember, who was behind the speech that became this notorious anti-Semitic closing ad, released on November 5th, 2016.
And yet here we are and let’s not shy away from it. All accounts suggest that Bannon has fallen from grace and will soon be fired by the President. His ouster comes as the loser in a battle with a group of Jewish Goldman Sachs (Cohn, Mnuchin) bankers and the tall, dapper and yet nebbishy Jewish legacy real estate tycoon Jared Kushner. (I’m Jewish. I can say all of this.) It all reads like the kind of alt-right morality play one of Bannon’s deplorables might have written in some grand alt-right dystopic novel. Even the non-Jews are veritable auslanders: A key new player is Dina Powell (born Dina Habib), an Egyptian immigrant (albeit a Copt) who was herself a banker at Goldman Sachs in addition to being a Republican policy insider.
Nor is any of this lost on the Bannonites. We keep hearing that in the harum-scarum of the Trump White House the crowd around Kushner is referred to as the “New York Democrats” or various similar formulations. As an older Jewish friend (who reminds me he’s been asked his whole life whether he’s from New York even though he’s from a different part of the country and has never lived in the city) told me yesterday, this language is not accidental. It’s a reference to their being Jews.
Only in the world of Trump could such a turn of events be possible – perhaps also inevitable. Trump himself being a ‘populist’ was always in many ways a ridiculous proposition: a doyen of the wealth, entitlement and hedonism that is the aspiration and milieu of New York’s upper crust, Trump connected to his base not through lifestyle but through the experience of disrespect, grievance and the desire for revenge. He ran a campaign which more and more literally and explicitly demonized (especially under Bannon’s late guidance) the ‘globalist’ machinations of Goldman Sachs. Yet, increasingly, he has built an administration run by Goldman Sachs bankers. Of course, it’s Goldman Sachs bankers and Jared Kushner and protectionist ‘economic nationalist’ xenophobes and racists. It’s an interesting combination. They’ve even imported period piece Eastern European racist nationalists to be part of the fun – see, Sebastian Gorka. Of course, it’s them and the general officers. But they don’t seem to be part of this narrative and drama.
How all this ends is impossible to tell. We’re less than a hundred days into Trump’s term. We’re more at beginnings than endings. From people with a front row seat to the action, I had always heard that Kushner and Bannon got on surprisingly well and that Kushner – who seemingly had no real political views at all before this started – was quite taken by Bannon’s ‘nationalism’. Perhaps the whole drama is manufactured and the factions less coherent than we’re led to believe. The Greek-American Priebus is also said to be on the chopping block. But he barely plays in the narrative, mere ethnographic roadkill of no symbolic significance. Along with the generals, he doesn’t fit into this conflict between ‘nationalists’ and ‘New York Democrats’.
The one thing we’ve always known about Donald Trump is that it’s all about Donald Trump – Donald Trump and in a tight inner ring almost coterminous with Trump himself, the Trump family. Different rules apply, or rather there are no rules except what seems to work at the moment for Donald Trump. Until it doesn’t. Or until it does again. Populist, real American, Jew, reactionary, cosmopolitan, plutocrat, vicious and violent or bombing for the suffering babies, it’s all malleable and subject to revision. But let’s stipulate now that if the ‘alt-right’ wanted to write a betrayal narrative that touched all the ideological erogenous zones on that fetid body of thought they could scarcely have come up with material more charged, melodramatic and grand.
[Did you enjoy reading this post? Considering supporting TPM by subscribing to Prime.]