There are arsonists in this world. I don’t mean just the kind that literally burn property on purpose. There are also the proverbial arsonists, whether it’s kids that cause trouble in school or criminals that are constantly in and out of prison. There is a difference between troublemakers and arsonists. Troublemakers create problems because they can’t control themselves or because they want attention. Arsonists are a breed of people that imagine the world in a particular way and aren’t afraid to destroy it if it gets them closer to their ideal. They control the chaos that they create. Think Unabomber or ISIS. They’ll do anything to see their enemy’s demise, even if it means burning their own house down. That’s Steve Bannon in a nutshell. Up until yesterday, the “good” Catholic boy has been the disheveled face of the alt-right news and opinion site Breitbart – a position he gave up to join the Trump administration.
You’ll recall that one of the first things President Trump did was issue an executive order closing borders to citizens of specific Muslim countries. It was done right before a weekend, without any consultation with border enforcement agencies, and it turned airports into absolute chaos. People trying to come into the States were stuck; people flying out discovered they wouldn’t be allowed back. Suddenly protesters filled airports, while the overwhelmed and blindsided police wondered what to do. According to the controversial book Fire and Fury, this stunt was straight from Steve Bannon’s playbook.
“Almost the entire White House staff demanded to know: Why did we do this on a Friday, when it would hit the airports hardest and bring out the most protesters?
“‘Errr … that’s why,’ said Bannon. ‘So the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.’ That was the way to crush the liberals: Make them crazy and drag them to the left.”
If Donald Trump is the aloof, narcissistic, inarticulate egomaniac eager to show off how big his nuclear war button is, Steve Bannon is the calculated, intelligent, articulate egomaniac who knows just want strings to pull in order to get Trump to push it. Time Magazine figured that out quickly and put Steve Bannon on the February 2017 cover with the headline “The Great Manipulator,” referring to him as the second most powerful man in the world. That made President Trump upset. It had nothing to do with someone in his administration being called a “manipulator;” he was upset because it was someone else in his administration getting the spotlight. Even the White House wasn’t big enough for both Bannon and Trump’s egos.
It’s no secret that Steve Bannon is a nationalist – limit immigration, trade, and keep America pure. The problem for white men who are nationalists is that they’re likely to get a lot of love from neo-Nazis and the KKK, whether they want it or not. That was the case with Steve Bannon. He preached the gospel of nationalism yet hated many of the fascists that sat in his church. Bannon’s playbook and Trump’s coaching emboldened the Neo-Nazis to march on the University of Virginia’s campus, while the rest of us wondered if America had reverted to its 1960s self.
When John Kelly was brought into the White House as the Chief of Staff in order to clean up a tumultuous start to Donald Trump’s presidency, it didn’t take him long to figure out who the arsonist was. A month into his post, just after the Charlottesville race riot and Trump’s mishandling of it, Kelly asked Steve Bannon to resign. Bannon then returned to his microphone at Breitbart.
Yesterday President Trump held a meeting about immigration reform with Democratic and Republican leaders. He said he wanted a bipartisan immigration “bill of love.” It’s hard to imagine President Trump being loving towards immigrants after his history of generalizing them as “rapists and murderers” while frantically closing down borders. It might just be that the White House has a different tenor now that its chief manipulator and arsonist is no longer calling the shots. Whether Trump will be able to remove the smell left by Steve Bannon is another story. Those first eight months of Trump’s presidency left quite the impression.
Coincidentally, while Trump was asking for an immigration bill of love, Steve Bannon was being removed from his post as the face of Breitbart. He had finally gone too far. The book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff came out last Friday, painting an unflattering and chaotic picture of the Trump Presidency. Trump supporters are calling it “fake news,” and even the more liberal news sources are questioning how truthful and factual Wolff’s research is. Everyone in the Trump administration has been quick to denounce Wolff’s claims… everyone except Steve Bannon. In his words, he still supports Trump, but he makes no apologies for the dirt he fed Michael Wolff. Who knows, maybe Steve Bannon was Wolff’s lone source. Nonetheless, it was another classic Steve Bannon move, playing the arsonist. Bannon should have known that the audience always endears the dummy more than the ventriloquist. When Bannon turned on Trump, Breitbart and its followers turned on Bannon.
The problem with arsonists is that they’re so hyper-focused on their fantasy that they can’t seem to comprehend the long-term effects of their intentional damage. It turns out Steve Bannon found the bridge to nowhere, crossed it, and then burned it down. Like they say, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And today those who are Trump fans have found unlikely common ground with those that say “Trump’s not my President.” They’ve joined hands and are singing a hymn entitled, “Good riddance Sloppy Steve.”