Jan 8th 2018

Breaking Bannon

WASHINGTON, DC – The just-released book about Donald Trump and his dysfunctional presidency (Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House) has left much of Washington reeling. Despite the White House’s constitutionally dubious threat to try to quash the book, the publication data was moved up four days. But the bulk of Fire and Fury’s disclosures, though deeply disquieting, aren’t all that surprising.

It’s not yet clear how Michael Wolff, the book’s controversial author, obtained some of his information, but it must be assumed that he taped many of his interviews, particularly those used for the long conversations found throughout the book. What Wolff has achieved is to get attributed quotes from high officials about how the president functions, or doesn’t.

But the book mostly tells us what most of political-journalistic Washington already knew: that Trump is unqualified to be president and that his White House is a high-risk area of inexperienced aides. The only surprise is that more calamities haven’t occurred – at least not yet.

A good portion of what was released before the book’s publication concerns a battle between two of the most talkative, argumentative, self-regarding braggarts US politics has ever seen: Trump and his one-time chief strategist, Stephen Bannon. In the summer of 2016, with his campaign lacking a leader, Trump made Bannon – a scruffy, scrappy former businessman who was then the executive chair of Breitbart News, a website preaching white nationalism – the campaign’s chief executive. Bannon was full of big ideas about what a right-wing “populist” campaign would look like.

In many ways, however, Bannon’s ideal campaign closely resembled what Trump was already saying and doing: appealing to blue-collar workers by attacking immigration – for example, saying that he’d build “a big, beautiful wall” along the border with Mexico, for which the Mexicans would pay – and trade agreements that Trump alleged were unfair to the US. These voters came to form the core of Trump’s base, and his success in wooing them, combined with Hillary Clinton’s stunning failure to do so, goes a long way toward explaining why he is president and she is not.

The problem for Trump is that the citizens he was wooing have never added up to a near-majority of voters. His famous “base” is well under 40% of the public. But Trump and Bannon apparently preferred not to think about that.

Trump is prone to taking out his frustrations on others – he is never to blame for his failures – and inevitably these landed on Bannon, who bragged more than was good for him about his power in the White House and asserted more than he should have. Bannon was ousted from the administration and left in August. Though he and Trump stayed in touch, in retrospect, an eventual falling out seems to have been inevitable.

Trump and Bannon were like two overweight men trying to share a single sleeping bag. Their political world wasn’t big enough for both. They disagreed bitterly over whom to back in the race to fill a Senate seat from Alabama; but, at Bannon’s urging, Trump ultimately backed the erratic former state Supreme Court judge Roy Moore, who’d been removed from the bench twice, and who lost the race. Bannon was seeking to shake up the Republican “establishment” by backing similar “outsider” candidates in this year’s midterm elections, which, if successful, could make it all the harder for Trump to obtain victories in Congress.

Despite his denials, it was Trump who more or less agreed to allow Wolff, whose reputation for slashing his subjects Trump presumably would have known from his years in New York City, to interview the White House staff for a book. Some aides say they believed they were talking to Wolff “off the record,” meaning that they wouldn’t be publicly associated with their remarks. But, even if that were true, it was hardly soothing to a furious president: they had said these things.

In Trump’s view, Bannon’s great sin with regard to Wolff’s book was to say highly negative things about the president’s family. Trump was particularly infuriated by Bannon’s description of a now-famous meeting that his son, Donald Jr., and other senior campaign staff held in Trump Tower in June 2016 with some Russians who said that they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Bannon told Wolff that the meeting was “treasonous.” But, depending on what actually transpired in that meeting, Bannon might not have been so far off. (Trump himself participated in a meeting aboard Air Force One, as he returned from his second presidential trip abroad, to draft a statement to cover up what happened in that Trump Tower meeting.)

Trump was also reportedly furious that Bannon had described the president’s favorite child, Ivanka, as “dumb as a brick.” Wolff also reports that Ivanka and her husband, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, had agreed that after their expected smashing success at the White House, it would be Ivanka who would run for president.

Overstating matters, as is his wont, Trump claimed, in effect, that Bannon had had nothing to do with his election victory, and that the two had almost never talked one on one. And, as is his wont, Trump threatened to sue Bannon. Trump has a long track record of threatening lawsuits without ever filing them, but even the threat can be costly to the putative target.

Yet the momentary obsession with the feuding within the Trump camp shouldn’t obscure other realities. Behind the drama, Trump has certain clear goals, and cabinet and agency heads who share them – and who don’t get distracted by the publication of a juicy account of the president’s behavior.

While much of Washington and its press corps were discussing the latest revelations, the Department of Justice, which is supposed to be somewhat independent of the White House, was being turned into a partisan instrument for pursuing the president’s grudges. Indeed, last week, it was disclosed that the DoJ was reopening an investigation into the already thoroughly investigated matter of Hillary Clinton’s emails. The FBI, it was also disclosed, would be looking into the Clinton Foundation.

The use of a government agency to punish a president’s previous opponent recalls the behavior for which Richard Nixon was impeached, and suggests a very different form of government than a democratic one.


Elizabeth Drew is a contributing editor to The New Republic and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2018.
www.project-syndicate.org 





Related video:

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Aug 15th 2019
EXTRACT: "Gaslighting typically refers to intimate relationships. It’s a way of controlling someone by creating false narratives – for example, that they are irrational or crazy. If such lies are repeated constantly, victims may get confused and start believing there really is something wrong with them. Confusion, diversion, distraction and disinformation can similarly be used to gaslight an entire society. So how can you tell if you are being gaslighted, and how do you avoid it in the first place?"
Aug 14th 2019
EXTRACT: "Trump has once again painted himself into a corner. Since the latest massacres, he’s been at pains to present himself as a reasonable fellow who can get behind gun reform (and perhaps mollify suburban women, his most dangerous foes on this issue). But he’s also noticeably (and typically) anxious to maintain the loyalty of the rural voters who form an important part of his base. Trump has also taken the gamble of using racial politics and white supremacy as instruments for winning in 2020. When faced with the dilemma of trying to assuage suburban voters or keeping the base close, time after time his instinct has been to shore up the base. (That didn’t work very well in 2018.)"
Aug 5th 2019
Extracts: "it is impossible to model many of the most important risks. Global warming will produce major changes in hydrological cycles, with both more extreme rainfall and longer more severe droughts. This will have severe adverse effects on agriculture and livelihoods in specific locations, but climate models cannot tell us in advance precisely where regional effects will be most severe. Adverse initial effects in turn could produce self-reinforcing political instability and large-scale attempted migration........Achieving a zero-carbon economy will require a massive increase in global electricity use, from today’s 23,000 TW hours to as much as 90,000 TW hours by mid-century. Delivering this in a zero-carbon fashion will require enormous investments, but as the Energy Transitions Commission has shown, it is technically, physically, and economically feasible......Added up across all economic sectors, however, it’s clear that the total cost of decarbonizing the global economy cannot possibly exceed 1-2% of world GDP. In fact, the actual costs will almost certainly be far lower, because most such estimates cautiously ignore the possibility of fundamental technological breakthroughs, and maintain conservative estimates of how long and how fast cost reductions in key technologies will occur. In 2010, the International Energy Agency projected a 70% fall in solar photovoltaic equipment costs by 2030. It happened by 2017."
Jul 31st 2019
Extract: "I admire the US for its culture, entrepreneurialism, and universities, and I have many American friends. Furthermore, I know how grateful the rest of the world has to be for US leadership after World War II. Never before had a victorious power behaved so generously toward others, including the defeated. We owe so much to US policy in the second half of the twentieth century. But although I am no declinist regarding American economic, intellectual, and military power, the country’s soft power has certainly decreased, and its positive influence around the world has declined. The reason for this is simple: US President Donald Trump is a bad man surrounded by a bad team of incompetent and dangerous ideologues."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "This pattern holds true in every extremist movement I have studied, whether from the past or the present, or the West or the East. This abuse of religion that provides security and certainty to those who are experiencing a loss of control is a universal phenomenon. If merely left there, it would not be a danger. But when it masks a political agenda or when it justifies violence either by groups or state actors, it becomes a danger."
Jul 30th 2019
Extract: "......the day before Mueller testified, the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections.” And the day after Mueller testified, the Senate Intelligence Committee issued a report stating that Russia would be involved in the next presidential election, and that countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China have the capacity to interfere in US elections as well. Despite these warnings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked Senate consideration of two bills aimed at strengthening US election security,....."
Jul 15th 2019
".....one of the most accurate recession indicators, known as the yield curve, has recently been flashing warning signs. Every postwar recession in the US was preceded by an inversion of the yield curve, meaning that long-term interest rates had fallen below short-term interest rates, some 12 to 18 months before the outset of the economic downturn."
Jul 6th 2019
Extract: ".........growing poverty even when working, the collapse of stable and safe social identities linked to work, the increasing instability of employment security, and the rapid change of local communities due to emigration, migration, collapsing housing affordability, and redevelopment initiatives that displace communities. These provide precise and urgent electoral rallying points. They are particularly effective given that so many mainstream politicians ignore these basic grievances. In recent years, the lineup of politicians opposing the New Right – Hillary Clinton, the Remain campaign, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi – have been unwilling to even recognise these structural problems. This provided the New Right the opportunity to appear credible, simply by acknowledging them."
Jul 6th 2019
".........an openly Russophilic administration in the US may be one reason why Putin’s domestic support has been declining so sharply."
Jul 3rd 2019
"Extract: .........in a world of rapidly expanding automation potential, demographic shrinkage is largely a boon, not a threat. Our expanding ability to automate human work across all sectors – agriculture, industry, and services – makes an ever-growing workforce increasingly irrelevant to improvements in human welfare. Conversely, automation makes it impossible to achieve full employment in countries still facing rapid population growth........The greatest demographic challenges therefore lie not in countries facing population stabilization and then gradual decline, but in Africa, which still faces rapid population growth."
Jul 1st 2019
Trump’s personal style – vocal, expertise-averse, scandal-prone and driven by a focus on his partisan base – may be unusual, but aspiring Democratic presidential contenders may be making a serious error in allowing Trump’s “Wizard of Oz” act of big claims and small achievements to pass unchallenged. There is a massive gap between the pledges he made to voters and the reality of an outsider presidency thoroughly co-opted by its party. So far, the “Trump revolution” turns out to be an ordinary Republican presidency.
Jun 25th 2019
"Trump’s vindictive bluster has steamrolled economic-policy deliberations – ignoring the lessons of history, rejecting the analytics of modern economics, and undermining the institutional integrity of the policymaking process. Policy blunders of epic proportion have become the rule, not the exception. It won’t be nearly as easy to spin the looming consequences."
Jun 19th 2019
Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth. India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal. There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour.
Jun 19th 2019
Extract: "Abe has reportedly nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize – at the request of the US – for opening talks with North Korea. And he has offered to mediate in America’s dispute with Iran. (His recent visit to Tehran – where he reportedly asked Iran’s leaders, at Trump’s request, to release detained Americans – made clear that, even squeezed by sanctions, Iran has no interest in negotiating with a serial violator of signed agreements.) What Trump calls an “incredible partnership” is, in reality, a largely one-sided relationship. But, for Abe, appeasing Trump is not so much a choice as a necessity: he must prove to Japan’s people and their neighbors, particularly the Chinese, that he knows how to keep Trump on his side."
Jun 17th 2019
Extarct: "We know well the damage that corrupt leaders do to their people. We should therefore have much more to say about the quintessential corruption entailed by tolerating lies. Such tolerance allows the poison to spread through the body and soul of democracy, undermining democracy’s institutions by attacking the invisible norms and tacit understandings that support them."
Jun 11th 2019
Extract: "I noticed this dynamic firsthand a few years ago in Blagoveshchensk, on the Siberian border, just a half-mile from the Chinese town of Heihe. A century and a half ago, Blagoveshchensk was part of China. Then the Cossacks took control of it, along with many other territories in Chinese Outer Manchuria, on behalf of the Russian czar. Blagoveshchensk’s local history museum presents the development of the town after the Cossack takeover as a civilizing mission. The Russians, it seems, still view themselves as superior Westerners. As for Heihe, it got rich a quarter-century ago, after capitalizing on Russia’s post-Soviet disarray to sell cheap goods to then-starving Russians. Its own history museum presents the Cossacks as “hairy barbarians” (Lao Maozi) and lists the towns of Russia’s far east by their historical Chinese names: Blagoveshchensk is Hailanpao, Vladivostok is Haishenwai, and Sakhalin is Kuye. Local behavior reflects these perspectives. At the ferry port, the Russians sneer at the Chinese traders who bring Russian vodka and chocolate to Heihe, while the Chinese move past the Russians as if they do not exist."
Jun 5th 2019
Extract: "....the Constitution, which established the impeachment process as a check on the president’s behavior between elections, says nothing about using it only when politically convenient. Moreover, given the results in 2018, Democratic Party leaders might well discourage making the disposition of the president the key issue in the next election. Most important, a decision not to initiate an impeachment process against Trump could set a terrible precedent. If Trump isn’t impeached for his numerous criminal acts and abuses of power, would impeachment remain a viable check on the presidency? "
Jun 3rd 2019
Extracts: "Sooner or later, all smaller powers dependent on global markets would have to choose a side, unless they are somehow strong enough to withstand both American and Chinese pressure. With China and the US both demanding clarity, even economic giants like the European Union, India, and Japan would be faced with an intractable economic dilemma."
May 24th 2019
Waging a war against Iran, or even thinking of doing so, is sheer madness. Trump has thus far wisely rejected the warmonger National Security Advisor John Bolton’s outrageous advice. Waging another war in the Mideast, this time against Iran, would have not only disastrous consequences for the US but will also engulf our allies from which they would suffer incalculable human losses and destruction. Bolton was the architect behind the devastating war in Iraq in 2003, which inflicted more than 5,000 US casualties and a cost exceeding two trillion dollars, allowed Iran to entrench itself in Iraq, and gave way to the rise of ISIS.
May 24th 2019
The private Tasnim news agency reports from Iran that in a speech to thousands of university students, Iran’s clerical leader Ali Khamenei made an unusual and extraordinary criticism of president Hassan Rouhani and foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif over their handling of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.