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Bannon with Abandon

If you weren’t watching the continuous Florida storm coverage on all the cable news channels on Sunday evening, you might have caught former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon’s interview with the Columbia Broadcast System’s “60 Minutes” program. We didn’t, as we were out enjoying the perfect weather we’ve been having around here lately, but of course we couldn’t avoid reading and hearing all of it on Monday.
Even after being fired or having resigned in order to better serve President Donald Trump from the outside, depending on which version of events you prefer, Bannon still has a knack for making news. He was a controversial figure as the “chief executive officer” of Trump’s campaign, even more so in his administration post, and got enough media attention that Trump was reportedly miffed about. To Trump’s most ardent supporters Bannon was considered the keeper of the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist faith that was going to make America great again, and to Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and right he was the authoritarian and alt-right quintessence of everything they hated about Trump.
His exit from the White House and his return to his previous gig of running the Breitbart.com internet news site was a big story before all the storms started, and even with the floods still rising in Florida his first on-air interview took up a full half of “60 Minutes.” He took full advantage of the opportunity to generate another days of news, of course, offering several opinions that will surely outrage Trump’s most strident critics on both the left and the right, which will surely gratify Trump’s most ardent supporters, but Trump himself also came in for some notable criticism.
Bannon said that Trump’s decision to fire Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey was “the biggest mistake in modern political history,” so of course that got the most media attention. This does not strike us as much of an overstatement, especially by Bannon standards, and we note that he also said “worst political mistake ever” was too bombastic even for him, but it was still some criticism from Trump’s most ardent supporter that Trump’s most strident critics relished. Bannon explained that Comey’s firing was a mistake because it inevitably led to the appointment of special counsel James Mueller, who’s now conducting far more thorough investigation of “Russia” than the one Trump effectively stopped Comey from pursuing, so he’s implicitly conceding he expects that to turn out even worse than Watergate or the Monica Lewinsky business or the many other worst modern political mistakes.
Bannon also pledged to be Trump’s “wing-man,” though, so maybe he’s just trying to give some good advice about exposing oneself to enemy fire. In the rest of the interview he remained fiercely loyal to Trump’s agenda, at least the nationalist and isolationist and populist and protectionist parts of it, and he vowed the mighty wrath of Breitbart.com and Bannon’s own media clout, and potentially the backing of his billionaire backers, against any Trump administration officials or any sorts of Republicans who won’t pledge their loyalty to whatever Trump might want to do at any given moment.
Even such a veteran interviewer as Charlie Rose seemed quite taken aback by it, which allowed Bannon to make specific threats and name specific names, and clearly explain his master plan to burn down the Republican party and raise a new nationalist and populist and all that party from the ashes. He dismissed the entirety of Republican party’s pre-Trump foreign policy and defense experts as “idiots” he “holds in contempt, total and complete contempt,” threatened primary challenges to any congressmen deemed unloyalw to Trump, cited Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan as people he’d like to get rid of, and accused the broader Republican “establishment” of “trying to nullify the election.” He also defined loyalty to Trump by “the Billy Bush day” standard, which means who was still loyally defending Trump when the entire nation heard the soon-to-be-president bragging on audiotape about how he could grab women by the wherever because he’s a star, and that’s a pretty high standard.
He also said he hoped all those “dreamers” who are suddenly the national sob story will be forced to “self-deport,” and we’re sure that Trump’s most ardent admirers loved every part of it, but we’re not sure what Trump made of it. Bannon also took aim at several Trump administration officials for publicly criticizing the president’s response to the violence that occurred during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, saying they should quit if they’re not entirely on board with whatever the president says at any given moment, but good look finding replacements who can meet that very high standard. He further took aim at senior White House advisor and jack-of-all-trades Jared Kushner, a Manhattanite and longtime Democratic donor and suspected globalist who frequently clashed with Bannon on such matters as nationalism and populism and the wisdom of firing Comey, but Kushner is also Trump’s son-in-law and we notice that he’s still working at the White House while Bannon isn’t, so that will likely play better with Trump’s most ardent supporters than Trump himself.
Bannon and his Breitbart.com and their billionaire backers have a limited influence in the grand scheme of things, but it’s enough to further fracture an already fractuous Republican party. There are a lot of Republican districts where Bannon’s efforts would only bolster a Republican incumbent’s chances in a primary, but there are others where the combined efforts of Bannon and Trump could find some true believer to knock off an office-holder who might otherwise have impeccable conservative credentials but doesn’t meet that “Billy Bush day” standard. In some cases this would lead to the election of some sane-by-Democratic-standards challenger, and maybe in enough cases to affect Democratic majorities in Congress that wouldn’t go along with any part of the Trump agenda now matter how far left might veer, but Bannon and other ardent Trump supporters can be consoled that at least we’d be done with that darned Republican establishment.
Both Trump and the “establishment” along with the rest of the country have recently survived two horrific hurricanes, though, and we expect most of us will survive the likes of Bannon as well.

— Bud Norman

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Obama’s Biggest Mistake: The Story

Identifying the biggest mistake made thus far by the Obama administration is not an easy chore. There are so many possible choices, after all, and only history can reveal which one ultimately proves most damaging. It was somewhat surprising, therefore, to hear that Obama reckons his biggest blunder has been that he just didn’t give the right speeches.

While speaking with a person called Charlie Rose on a television program called “CBS This Morning,” which apparently airs in the mornings when we are trying to get some sleep, President Obama was asked to reflect on the greatest accomplishments and failures of his time in office. He replied that “When I think about what we’ve done well and what we haven’t done well, the mistake of my first term — couple of years — was thinking that this job was just about getting the policy right. And that’s important. But the nature of this office is also to tell a story to the American people that gives them a sense of unity and purpose and optimism, especially during tough times.”

Although it would be presumptuous to say how future generations will assess the Obama administration, it does seem safe to venture a guess that they will render a judgment quite different from Obama’s. Historians can be an ideological lot, but it will require a rare fealty to look back on the five trillion dollars of debt that was racked up, the persistently high unemployment and meager economic growth that occurred despite all the stimulative spending, an expensive and inefficient medical system imposed despite widespread opposition, as well as a deteriorating international order, and conclude that the president’s biggest problem was that he just couldn’t tell a good enough story.

Liberals have a fervent faith in the magic of words, though, and given how far in life Obama has traveled on their power he is bound to be a true believer. Back in ’03 a UC-Berkeley linguistics professor called George Lakoff wrote a book called “Moral Politics” that argued dim-witted conservatives beat brilliant liberals in elections only because they use words more effectively. For several years afterwards the liberal rags were abuzz with articles about “framing” and “narratives” and “telling stories,” all reaching the same conclusion that if they just came up with some catchy slogans and a sufficiently seductive storyline that reality would gladly conform itself to their expectations. The theory seemed to work just as promised in the ’08 election, when the world’s greatest orator had the adoring throngs fainting in the aisle as his sonorous baritone spoke of hope and change, thus changing political reality to the liberals’ satisfaction, but since then the economic and geo-political realities have some proved far more stubbornly resistant to the rhetoric than were those screaming crowds of star-struck youngsters and aging hippies.

We suspect that Obama’s extraordinary ego has leads him to the dubious conclusion that his only failing has been his inability to dumb down his lofty prose enough to convince the American rubes how wonderful he’s been. He did everything right, after all, and if the public can’t see that just because the results have been so plainly awful he can’t be expected to do anything about that. By “framing” the “narrative” in this manner he arrives at a neat rationalization, one well worth jettisoning his worn-out no longer useful reputation as the world’s greatest orator.

People might even buy it. It’s quite a story.

— Bud Norman