“I hope it stays dark forever
I hope the worst isn’t over
And I hope you blink before I do
And I hope I never get sober
And I hope when you think of me years down the line
You can’t find one good thing to say
And I’d hope that if I found the strength to walk out
You’d stay the hell out of my way”
—No Children, The Mountain Goats
Steve Bannon lives. In defiance of the laws of health and God, he lives. But he no longer walks in the light of Trump. Yesterday, the President of the United States rambled out a heinous monologue about his former help-mate:
Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. ... Now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look.
The Bannon-Trump partnership was the most profitable alt-right pairing since Alex Jones started selling drugs to the impotent uncle demographic. And now it’s over. During the fat times, Bannon and Trump blocked the Democrats at every turn, like a pair of swamp murderers dodging Louisiana bounty hunters. For several months in 2016 and 2017, Bannon was playing at the top of his sweaty, deceptive form, dominating the media so completely that the only credible defense the opposition could muster was Saturday Night Live. He still retained his influence after leaving the White House. Steve even began a kind of international tour: as if your roving, raving racist grandfather was also a media baron. Bannon is what happens when you shove Freakonomics and The Turner Diaries in a pale, pear-shaped sack.
And now, this. A kindergartener who understands hate could tell you what happened here. The Trump-Bannon split has grown since Bannon was pushed out last year by General Kelly. But the divide was always there. Circumstances recently made it more explicit. In Michael Wolff’s new book about the Trump White House, Bannon described Jared Kushner’s meetings with Russian lawyers as “unpatriotic” and “treasonous.”
According to CNN:
“The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers,” Bannon told Wolff. “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately.”
After the Trump broadside, Bannon went straight to backpedaling. On his SiriusXM radio show Wednesday night, Bannon said:
“The President of the United States is a great man,” he said. “You know, I support him day in and day out.”
Bannon and Trump breaking is somehow both surprising … and expected, in a weird way. It was a volatile relationship. Trump needed Bannon. Bannon needed Trump. Even after their breakup, they clung to another, clumsy swimmers struggling to float.
Sometimes, to kill a few hours before Miller Time, physicists separate subatomic particles. They place these particles a great distance apart. Remarkably, whatever the scientists do to one particle occurs to the other; they are entangled in a mysterious way. The term for the paired dance is spooky action at a distance. That’s Trump and Bannon. You complete me, as a certain Xenu-inspired sports agent once told a movie camera. For Trump, Bannon was the missing puzzle piece, the final step in his journey from affected dullard to Real Live Serious Boy. You might as well ask why the desert misses the rain. Trump was a clown who pretended to be a serious man, and Bannon was a serious man who only appears (and sounds, and acts) like a jabbering dupe. Together, these two degenerates stomped the heart out of the impregnable Republican Party. Of course the lanyards had it coming, but it’s still hard news. The death of Romneyism made way for the blazing moon of the MAGA Chuds.
So it is well and good and goodly well that there’s a civil war between the two most punchable faces of Alt-Reich. Exceptional news. But the Trump-Bannon break cannot, should not be our endgame. As pleasant as their disagreement is, it is not a silver bullet. This fight removes neither Bannon nor Trump from the field of play.
We’ve seen this all before. Journey back in time with me, won’t you, to Obama’s first term. Remember the wild rumpus between suburban reactionaries and the rest of the GOP? How well did that end for the rest of us? We got the Tea Party. Eight years later, they elected their very own birther President. In the long run, the battle between the RINOs and the Birchers resulted in a stronger, screechier Right. A Trump-Bannon war for supremacy is pleasant to consider. But consider the implications: internal strife means there are enough members of the alt-right to support two disagreeing schools of thought. Here’s the real disagreement between the Trump and Bannon wings of the alt-right: do we want to be obviously racist, or just dog-whistle racist? I’ll only be comfortable when the Right is small enough to agree on everything.
Pragmatically speaking, Trump is the prime enemy. The President is the one with the nuclear button and Jack Dorsey’s blessing to run Twitter. But the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. In the long run, Bannon is more dangerous than Trump. Weirder. Smarter. He is the shadow to Trump, the would-be kingmaker who got outmaneuvered by a high-dollar gang of real-estate cheats. In a slightly different world, Bannon would have disappeared Ivanka and Jared into thin air. Reince Priebus would have been disfigured and lodged in a private Ukrainian asylum. And we would be in month thirteen of Under-President’s Bannon’s buildup to war with China. Forget that Bannon upsets Trump—we cannot afford to become warmhearted about Grendel.
Trump’s presidency is a triumph of brutal cruelty, nihilism, and stupidity. But in its staffing and its actions, Trump’s Presidency is not so different from Bush II. Trump’s only major policy success is a tax bill written by corporate lobbyists.
The fascist takeover we expected has not come to pass. The Trump Administration is the same old imperial ambition, white supremacy, and corporate hegemony we’ve had since Reagan. After Charlottesville, Trump—coward child that he is—wanted it both ways. He tried to support his lunatic followers and to keep the love of the country, and failed at both. Bannon wouldn’t have bothered to pretend. Trump’s vileness is conventional, and Trump’s crimes are expected. What Bannon wanted was a revolution—a reactionary populism tied to a radical racist nationalism which would sweep away the last norms of our society. Trump’s a fork with a cork stuck on the end of it. Bannon is a knife. A true Bannon-inspired presidency would be the travel ban, every day, for years.
The Bannon-Trump feud is not the end of the Long Night. Any Resistance that includes him, in any sense, is a moral laughing stock. One monster eating another won’t end our troubles. The Book of Exodus doesn’t end when Aaron’s snake devours Pharaoh’s serpents. If I recall, there was a lot of wandering in the wasteland before the big finish. Doctors don’t make people healthy by cheering for cholera to kill off malaria. We owe it to ourselves to set priorities beyond the jailing of Trump. Why not aim for the best of both worlds, and prosecute them both?