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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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Might As Well Grab ‘Em By The …

By this unpleasant moment in such a crazy presidential election year, our best advice to the Republican nominee is to go right ahead and proudly proclaim that he’s a sexist pig. To borrow an infamous phrase from the equally despicable Democratic nominee, what difference, at this point, does it make?
In case you’ve been fortunate enough to have been living in a cave without cable television or internet access or even old-fashioned newspaper delivery for the past several days, last Friday saw the release of an 11-year-old outtake from a celebrity gossip show that featured Donald J. Trump boasting about how his reality-show stardom allowed him to not only kiss any attractive woman he might encounter but also to “grab ’em by the p***y.” Even in this crazy election year, and even at this late date in our long cultural decline, when the unregulated cable news networks and the more daring newspapers are quoting the obscenity without the expurgating asterisks, the story had legs that carried it into Sunday’s presidential debate.
After an uncharacteristic apology for his remarks, which he laughably insisted did not reflect who he is, Trump tried to further mitigate the damage by dragging out three women who could plausibly testify that the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s ex-president husband was an even worse cad. During the debate he tried to dodge a question about whether he had actually done what he bragged about, then finally insisted he was merely all talk and no action, but anyone who familiar with the reality show genre should not be surprised that at least four women are now plausibly testifying that he acted exactly like he had bragged about acting. There are also some former beauty pageant contestants testifying that Trump invaded their dressing rooms while they were undressed, which Trump indignantly denies but is nonetheless plausible given that he also bragged about being able to get away with that during one of his frequent appearances on the shock jock Howard Stern’s radio show, and given the countless other eye-popping quotes he’s provided to the tabloid press over the years the sexist pig charge is becoming hard to deny. Trump and his supporters can cast aspersions on the women making the claims, just as they now indignantly note that Clinton and all his former and current supporters did, but that probably won’t help.
This isn’t likely to help Trump with the 60 percent or so of voters who had already reasonably concluded that he doesn’t respect women, but it won’t faze the 35 percent or so of the country that have stubbornly supported his candidacy from the beginning, and we’re quite sure many of them will regard it as a feature rather than a bug. When we tried to warn our fellow Republicans that Trump was a predatory sexist pig we were often told that he was the only bold enough to point out that so was the Democratic nominee’s ex-president husband, which we had to admit was true, even if he seemed the worst one of the candidates to make the case, and the fact that Trump had long been among those libertine Democrats making excuses for the ex-president’s predatory sexist piggery and casting aspersions on his victims proved unconvincing to Trump’s more ardent fans.
We were also told that Trump’s already well-known eye-popping quotes of sexual piggery were proof of how very “politically-incorrect” he was, and whatever the hell that means to someone in favor same-sex bathrooms it was somehow a big selling point at the time, and that it demonstrated what an world-beating “alpha-male” he was, whatever the hell that means in the context of a draft-dodging isolationist with a worrisome adoration of Vladimir Putin. So as far we understood it the theory was that a six-times bankrupt and self-proclaimed “king of debt” was such a brilliant businessman that only he could deal with the nation’s impending insolvency, that only a twice-divorced and boastfully adulterous and lately-married to an illegal-immigrant-nudie-model could defend our nation’s Judeo-Christian culture, and that the sheer audaciousness required to stand on a Republican debate stage and boast about his hand size and you-know-what-that-means and then grab ’em by the genitals would suffice to  slay America’s many foreign and domestic enemies, and that at least he’d be having affairs with more glamorous women than that loser ex-president could get. The theory also claimed that only he would get down in the mud with those awful Clintons, where we were told the battle had to be won, but at this point in such a crazy election year it doesn’t seem to be working out.
Which is a shame, because those Clintons truly are at least as awful, quite arguably more so, and we expect that just about any old boring beta-male or even downright female Republican who wasn’t such an undeniably sexist pig and spent all of his or her  time talking up the traditional Republican talking points about the sluggish economy and national debt and rapidly deteriorating foreign relations and free market alternatives to Obamacare and all that blather about sex-segregated dressing rooms and other pressing issues facing the nation would be leading by double digits rather than trailing by the six or seven points that Trump is currently losing. At this point that makes no difference, we suppose, but we’ll hold out hope that at some happier point in the future the Republican Party will remember this awful moment in history.

— Bud Norman

On Private Parts, Public Discourse, and Cultural Decline

Go right ahead and call us old-fashioned, and we’ll freely admit we have no idea what sort of focus groups and poll-testing might have signed off on it, yet we can’t help thinking that “grab ’em by the p***y” is probably the worst presidential campaign slogan ever.
Please accept our apologies for using even such politely expurgated language in these previously pristine pages, but that’s where we find ourselves at this late moment in America’s long cultural decline. This year’s presidential election has dragged the entire country right down in the mud, where Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters had always promised it would be won, and at this point we can’t see how anyone emerges un-muddied. Trump has ambiguously apologized for that “grab ’em by …” slogan that was revealed on an 11-year-old videotape of him bragging about how his celebrity allows him to take such liberties with women, and he has defiantly and plausibly asserted that Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s husband’s behavior over the years has been even worse, but the mud still sticks almost all around.
We were called old-fashioned at the time, but when Bill Clinton was first running for the presidency way back in our relative youth we objected that his well-documented tawdry private life had disqualified him from public office. The tawdriness of his private life was publicly documented during his second term by revelations of an affair that involved cigars and Altoids and a much-younger White House intern, and it dominated all the early morning headlines and late night comedy monologues, but even the current Republican nominee was then a Democrat contributing his family causes and scoffing at such prudes as ourselves, so his reputation somehow survived to such a point that his oft-wronged but still defiantly defensive wife is now the betting favorite to be the next president.
Way back when we were proud of the Republican Party’s willingness to go ahead and impeach Bill Clinton for the lies he told under oath about that tawdry affair with a much younger and quite obviously stupider young woman, even if they didn’t succeed in removing him from office because of a strict a party-line vote, despite the reputation as an old-fashioned bunch of blues-noses they acquired as a result. When Clinton’s complicit wife emerged as the Democratic front-runner this year we were hopeful for a Republican who would be willing to confront her about it, but as it turned out the only one who threatened to do so was Trump. From the outset we worried that the twice-divorced and married-for-a-third-time-to-an-illegal-immigrant-nudie model and six-times-bankrupt casino-and-strip-joint mogul was hardly the one to make the case, and that was just based on his own autobiographies and countless appearances on Howard Stern’s shock-jock radio show, and even before that footage of him bragging about grabbing women’s private parts because he was a reality show star we could see the race winding up in the worst sort of mud.
At this point all those Democrats who called us old-fashioned back in the day are suddenly appalled that the Republican nominee is such an undeniably sexist pig, all those Republicans who objected to Bill Clinton’s sexual piggery and his wife’s complicity are suddenly defending Trump’s behavior as mere “locker room talk” are similarly hypocritical, and even such prudes as ourselves are reduced to using asterisks to expurgate the current political discourse. We can congratulate ourselves on being so consistent as to being appalled by the last few decades of cultural decline and right up to the current moment, we suppose, but we still feel slightly muddy. Much of the rest of the Republican Party is also distancing itself from the party’s candidate, and a disappointingly smaller share of the Democratic party is distancing itself from their party’s candidate, but the muddiness seems likely to prevail.

— Bud Norman