This is not the end of Steve Bannon – on the contrary, it is just the beginning

It is possible that Breitbart, the other agenda-driven news sources, the keyboard warriors, the conspiracy theorists, the guys with the swastika flags and the haters will win this media war – after all, they helped get Trump elected

Sean O'Grady
Saturday 19 August 2017 16:43 BST
The link between Trump’s campaign and Bannon’s influence is almost inextricable
The link between Trump’s campaign and Bannon’s influence is almost inextricable (Getty)

Is the Trump administration and the Trump project better or worse off with the departure of Steve Bannon as the President’s chief strategist?

Bannon, apparently now to be known as “Bannon the Barbarian”, is an intelligent man who appreciates the distinction. The administration requires clear lines, legislative and judicial consent, accountability and transparency: the Trump project requires that the right stuff needs to happen, like in a business or a newsroom.

Bannon is more at home in the newsroom. He is plainly not one of life’s administrators. Bumping into suspicion, incomprehension and outright hostility virtually everywhere he wandered in the federal government, he rightly concluded that he lacked the skills required to navigate that terrain.

He’s lasted barely six months into the Trump presidency; that does not suggest Bannon possessed the staying power, willingness to compromise or diplomacy to be a long term asset to President Trump. For any president, and certainly the insecure Donald Trump, having a senior aide publicly contradict you on North Korea is just intolerable. Bannon must realise that too. As a journalist – especially of a controversial and independent minded stripe – sublimating your own opinions can be too painful to do, whether you respect your boss or not.

All round, then, his departure was inevitable. The order White House Chief of Staff John Kelly yearns for is gradually being established, and with it a more conventional style of government. It will lend stability to the Trump administration as it faces challenges on every front, not least that business about the Russians that refuses to go away. Behind all the headlines about chaos at the White House a stronger bureaucracy is actually being created right now. The tectonic plates of Trump and the permanent government of DC are grinding towards some kind of accommodation, though it may not look like it.

But what about the Trump project? Making America great again? Building the Wall? Creating jobs?

Breitbart's senior-editor-at-large Joel Pollak: With Bannon gone, Trump's presidency could fail

Plainly Steve Bannon has declared it already “over” in the sense of those original ideas and aims that delivered Trump his remarkable victory last year, not even 12 months ago. Like the solar eclipse coming soon, the bright future of the Trump era and America being great again is being blotted out by the swampy darkness of the political and mainstream media swamp.

Therefore, Bannon thinks he will be more use outside the tent, so to speak. He and his allies back at the Breitbart organisation promise “war” on Trump’s opponents: “I’m going to war for Trump” says Bannon, like he is setting up a special forces division or paramilitary wing of the bureaucratic Trump administration to counter all the faint hearts and fifth columnists inside it, all too willing to sell out to Democrats or prissy liberal Republicans.

Indeed Bannon will be critical of Trump – but for being too soft rather than too extreme. That way, so the logic goes, the Trump project – or the Bannon project – might yet be saved.

Will it work? I suspect the world is overestimating the power of the so-called alt-right (ie, what we used to call bigots and racists) and underestimating the influence of the established mainstream media (or what we used to call the truth). But there is cause for concern, given how gullible people seem to be, frankly, and given the delusions of the Trumpites. There is a sort of Trumpland, you see, where things can be made to be true if you just use willpower to make them to be true, and just call anyone who contradicts you a liar or fake. It’s like if a bald guy believes he has a fine head of vibrant silky hair and tells himself and everyone else he has a fine head of hair, and maybe with some creative barbershop work, then he will no longer be a baldy. He will believe it sincerely and he is in such a position of authority some might even give the absurd notion credence.

Strategist Steve Bannon leaves Trump's turbulent White House

The most obvious early political example of that “alt-world” was the childish spat about the numbers attending the Trump inauguration, and now it happens almost every working day, and perniciously so over the events in Charlottesville.

Manifestly, the mainstream media is putting up a spirited defence, but the scale of the onslaught is unprecedented, partly fostered by technological change where anyone with a web connection and a Facebook and a Twitter account can be a publisher. It is possible that Breitbart, the other agenda-driven news sources, the keyboard warriors, the conspiracy theorists who think the moon landings were a hoax, the guys with the swastika flags and the haters will win this media war – after all, they helped get Trump elected by creating and fuelling a huge national movement of economic paranoia. Bannon, by the way, is supposed to have been annoyed by officials “wetting themselves” over his belief that China was waging and winning an economic war with America. He hasn’t given up on that just because he’s handed in his White House pass.

So Trumpism or Bannonism isn’t going away. Short term, protectionism will indeed bring back jobs to America, by definition, even though it means higher costs for consumers and less spending power for potential buyers of US goods and services abroad. If so then at least to some extent by 2020 and next election time Trump’s policies will be working, and all the chaos and clowning around of 2017 will be behind the administration. Bannon and his allies will be there again to push the key messages home.

How’s that for an eclipse?

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