“Are you crazy!?! The fall will probably kill you!”
— Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
Our colleague over at Marmalade, David Benjamin Steele, has been making the case that Steve Bannon poses a not to be underestimated threat. It is a view worth considering.
We have taken the view that while vile and clearly a regurgitated sewer of early 20th century fascism and even earlier 19th century nativist bigotry, with flashes of right wing populism, Bannon’s hitching his wagon to Trump’s warped parade, while awful would not be sufficient to overcome the equally vile but entrenched forces of the establishment.
We have maintained that Trump’s extraordinary stupidity, his indiscriminate rhetorical carpet bombing, his incoherent fits of stupidity and the control his assorted pathologies have over him, were no match for the combined forces of selfish self preservation to be found in the corrupt corporate media, the Military Industrial Complex, the intelligence agencies and the turf-protecting power addicted House and Senate. In other words, one can safely assume that the gangsters, pimps and whores will band together to stay in business.
However we’re contemplating the need to adjust our views.
We still believe that Trump is insane, unstable, incoherent and a professional demagogue and amateur fascist. That he is as likely to shoot himself as he is to be (politically) shot by his opponents. That is, he lacks an ideological center but does have an abundance of narcissistic impulses that demand fealty, adoration, and a habitual need for adulation, as well as a series of deep wounds to his soul that require, like some pagan tribal chieftain, a constant barrage of sacrifices to the cult. All of which makes him vulnerable.
Trump cannot tolerate dissention, or accepting responsibility for anything except fabricated and false examples of success. When pressed (which for a psychopath is pretty much all the time) he will lash out and as he is the president, lashing out ranges from abusing strategic alliances with Europe and Canada, or Japan, to bigoted attacks against minorities, to state sanctioned kidnapping of children and having them locked up in makeshift detention camps in the desert, to environmental genocide, to indulging his authoritarian impulses by cozying up to dictators soaking in blood and standing on a mountain of skulls.
Trump is irrational and as a result the only consistency is his inconsistency and his need to receive praise and avoid responsibility.
As such today’s friend is that afternoon’s enemy, and then that enemy is the next days admired “tough guy” with whom Trump can make a deal followed by another traumatizing nerve jangling stunt that repeats the process.
Which brings us to the growing trade war.
The fact is that the trade system has resulted in among other things a wholesale gutting of the predominantly White working class in America. Intellectual and ethical honesty requires that any useful appraisal of the past fifty years of America’s history, takes into account the integrity of the vision of Bruce Springsteen – and that in turn requires one to say that Trump is not wrong when he says the millions of people who were betrayed by neo-liberalism, and Wall Street, have a reason to be angry. “I got debts no honest man can pay” is not just one of Springsteen’s more telling lines but could easily serve as the defining statement about America’s social fabric over the last fifty years.
But unlike Springsteen Trump doesn’t care about their tragedies except to the extent that it works as tinder for the fire that propels his narcissism and assists him in pitching a colossal fit. Trump is a damaged soul incapable of empathy or sympathy. He doesn’t care about the opioid crisis, or health care, or bringing jobs back to America. He cares about using those issues to further his psychosis. If this afternoon he found something else that worked better he would switch his attention to that and hold himself a parade in celebration.
Steve Bannon is a different story.
We must consider the idea that Bannon’s goal, subject to fits and starts, twists and turns, and hypocritical changes in tactics, within a stable strategic vision, is based on the idea that Trump is the ideal combination of incoherence and instability; a combination of charlatan and lone political gunman, whose very defects sevre a long term purpose.
That purpose is collapse.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument, that Bannon, while crippled by a profound sense of superiority and the pathologies of bigotry and atavistic blood lust, has a flexible strategy that works as follows:
He knows that Trump is neither intelligent enough or disciplined enough or powerful enough to topple the establishment.
He knows that out of self preservation, if not a sense of patriotism (however misguided or how open that concept is to different definitions) the establishment can be counted on to defend itself and if need be destroy Trump.
He also knows that Trump has several primary weapons at his disposal.
First, as President he commands attention and the media cannot ignore him.
Second, the systemic hypocrisy and stupidity of the ossified pseudo-left in America can be provoked into one tactical and strategic blunder after another.
Third, the president has the ability to create legislative and bureaucratic chaos which can be spun as intransigence, by and of the “elites”, against the predominantly White disenfranchised working class and the racist White upper classes who will side with Trump against minority interests.
Fourth, that the republican and democratic establishments are fractured and riven with blood feuds, based on naked ambition and ideological schisms, and that so long as they are divided against each other they pose a diminished threat to Trump.
Fifth, the establishment based spineless and cowardly nature of people like Nancy – were capitalists get used to it – Pelosi, and the Ayn Randian fend for yourself psychosis of Paul Ryan, and the reactionary aristocratic, anyone but the liberals, spite of Mitch McConnell, in conjunction with the above listed factors, means Trump is relatively safe. And in fact that short of the political will to stage a coup disguised as impeachment, and that as a matter of headcounts securing the yes votes of 67 senators is all but impossible, even a recommendation from establishment troll Robert Mueller is unlikely to bring the tyrant to justice, let alone dispose of him. That in turn leaves either state level and personal lawsuits (i.e., and e.g., Stormy Daniels and the State of New York) either on their own or in conjunction with a democratic restoration in 2020 (or a stopgap produced by retaking the House in 2018).
Sixth, Trump and his supporters are immune to logic and allergic to evidence and worship magical thinking. No amount of evidence will convince them that they or their chief are wrong. It is useless to try and persuade them.
Seventh, the president has broad authority to engage in political adventurism from military strikes to disrupting strategic alliances to starting a trade war.
And it is the last item that potentially gives Bannon his greatest weapon.
The goal of a Bannon instigated trade war is collapse and chaos. The war cannot be won in the sense of forcing the EU, Canada and China and Japan to capitulate but Bannon knows that.
The war can be won in the sense that a 1929 style crash will unleash a tidal wave of social unrest that will give Trump the reason and the means to suspend civil liberties, and impose either a de facto dictatorship or a direct dictatorship with the convenience and outright assistance of the feckless, cynical, fanatical establishment whores. Additionally, Bannon knows and is banking on the fact that even amid the wreckage of a trade war, Trump’s supporters won’t blame Trump but will blame the “elites” the liberals, the media, the minorities and the foreigners.
Bannon wants the “administrative state” to collapse and he wants that to spark an uprising of the natives.
Consider his twisted (mis)reading of the end of The Lord of the Rings. The Scouring of The Shire, in Tolkien’s epic, represents an anti-(corrupt) establishment, populist and agrarian revolt. But Tolkien was not against the elite as he was an elitist and believed in a reactionary romanticism that manifests as the return of the (benign) king. This is the positive side of the coin, the reverse of which is the reactionary aristocratic, elitist theocratic fascism of Tolkien’s contemporary, T.S. Eliot.
Bannon’s spin on this is to cherry pick. He has contempt for Eliot’s erudition because he (Bannon) only appears to be sophisticated and an intellectual in comparison to the cesspool of congenital morons and professional half-wits that comprise America’s political and media establishment. But he agrees with Eliot about the power of the church and the power of the the bund/volk and he then turns to Tolkien and believes that the White workers whom he has often called Hobbits, should and will revolt.
So imagine the trade war intensifies. And the delusional suggestions put forward by establishment hacks, that America is relatively well suited to withstand the shocks are quickly proven to be delusional.
Case in point, take a read of this establishment boilerplate and delusional bs from The New York Times:
“Americans appear to be better insulated than most from the consequences of trade hostilities. As a large economy in relatively strong shape, the United States can find domestic buyers for its goods and services when export opportunities shrink.”
First of all tens of millions of Americans are working low paying stagnant mcjobs that lock them into a paycheck to paycheck razor’s edge existence without health care, social mobility, or any hope of paying down their debt while forcing them to accrue still more debt. These same work drones and members of the permanent underclass of wage slaves will be pushed off the ledge as the trade war intensifies.
Then take note of the fact that the Grey Lady then says the following:
“Let us not understate the macroeconomic impact,” the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde, warned this past week about trade conflicts. “It would be serious, not only if the United States took action, but especially if other countries were to retaliate, notably those who would be most affected, such as Canada, Europe and Germany.”
The Trump administration’s decision to reinstate sanctions on Iran has lifted oil prices, adding pressure to importers worldwide. Europe’s economy is weakening, with Germany — the continent’s largest economy — especially vulnerable. Central banks in the United States and Europe are withdrawing the cheap money they sent coursing through the global financial system after the crisis of 2008, lifting borrowing costs.
The United States last year imported more than $600 billion in goods and services from Canada and Mexico, the two other nations in the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal Mr. Trump has threatened to blow up. Americans bought more than $500 billion in wares from China, and another $450 billion from the European Union. Collectively, that amounts to nearly two-thirds of all American imports.
“If you seriously disrupt any of these three, you’re going to feel the effects,” said Adam Slater, lead economist at Oxford Economics. “If you disrupt all three at once, you’re going to feel it quite severely.”
Quite severely indeed.
Imagine then, tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands and soon, several million people lose the low wage stagnant jobs they are barely living on, and find themselves already ginned up by several years worth of hateful tribalist rhetoric. And not just dog whistle codes, but blatant fascist and racist statements by Trump and his chief lieutenants.
Imagine a cop shooting someone or beating someone and it’s caught on video. Imagine the cop is White and the victim is Black.
Imagine the riot/rebellion but imagine it amid the tension of a soaring unemployment rate.
Imagine Trump, Sessions and Bannon, and the cowards in the establishment all calling for calm, order and the National Guard.
It is no laughing matter that Bannon references fascists like Julius Evola. It is manifestly idiotic because of course fascism is idiotic but that does mean it isn’t lethal. To paraphrase a scene from the liberal fantasy world of Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing: “Won’t antihistamines and tractor fluid kill you?!? Yes of course they will but first they get you really high.”
Or, imagine that the only way out is to jump from the cliff to the river below except, you explain, you can’t swim.
But then come the words of wisdom: Are you crazy!?! The fall will probably kill you.
See D.B.S.’s blog, Marmalade, here:
See The New York Times, by placing the following into a search engine:
New York Times Just the Fear of a Trade War Is Straining the Global Economy