Stephen, We Hardly Knew Ye

By John Zmirak Published on August 20, 2017

I felt saddened but not surprised to see Stephen K. Bannon leave Donald Trump’s White House. I don’t know any inside details. I don’t know what this means. Is it the beginning of a full-on purge of the principled conservatives around him? Will Sebastian Gorka and Stephen Miller be next? I certainly hope not. It’s easy to assume that, and panic.

Fearing the Worst

Many of Trump’s earliest and loudest supporters are venting plasma. They point out that now the White House inner circle has more liberal Democrats than pro-Trump conservatives. The Trump family courtiers and their allies could work together with establishment Republicans to turn this into, effectively, the first term of President Jeb Bush. Minus the goodwill that liberals would have granted us for electing a mumbling nebbish.

In fact, if things play out this way, we’ll get the worst of both worlds: We’ll garner the same hate we would have for electing a Judge Roy Moore or a Pat Buchanan. But we’ll get the same useless foreign wars and cave-ins on cultural issues we’d expect from a President Kasich or Pataki. We’ll be hanged not for sheep but a single lamb-ball, moldering on a broken skewer. Good times, folks.

Citizens of the Acela Quiet Car or International Business Class look at the rest of us and are puzzled.

But we don’t know for a fact that Bannon’s move is part of an ideological purge. In fact, the explanation might be personal. It might come down to something as simple and adolescent as this: The president remembers that he was trailing Hillary Clinton by double digits before he hired Bannon. It’s obvious that Bannon turned Trump’s campaign around, and led to a win. It takes a very secure and mature man to keep around an underling to whom he owes that much. That’s not the man in the White House.

The First Jeb Bush Administration?

Again, we don’t know. Bannon has met with his financial backers the Mercers, who were longtime supporters of Sen. Ted Cruz. He’s returning to Breitbart, the rough-edged but immensely readable and brave publication that ate the lunch of other conservative outlets. To some, that means that Bannon will lead a war against Trump from the right. Certainly, he’s likely to if the worst-case scenario happens, and one or more of the following happens:

  • The U.S. blunders into occupying Syria, for the benefit of Sunni jihadists, allegedly to “stop Iran” from doing something or other, which we’d prefer to let the Islamists of Saudi Arabia do.
  • If Trump lets his generals dig us deeper into the hopeless and meaningless quagmire that is Afghanistan — whose dictionary definition should read: “Afghanistan: The patch of ungovernable ground you wish to see your enemies try to occupy.”
  • Trump betrays his base and chooses for the Supreme Court a “moderate” instead of a conservative. “Moderate” in this context means a justice who’ll vote with the radicals on the court, but insert whiny footnotes at the bottom of his opinion.
  • Trump fails to follow up on his central campaign promise: securing America’s borders and reforming legal immigration to benefit U.S. blue collar workers.

If Trump delivered us all that, his base would walk away from him. No one else would rally to him. He’d be surrounded entirely by family members, opportunists, mercenaries, and “managers”— this last group defined as folks who despised him throughout the campaign, who agreed to serve so as to “limit the damage” Trump might do. As his single term came to a close, he’d look at the numbers and decide not to run again. Then “President Trump” would become a quaint historical footnote, like Huey Long. And the large swathe of Americans who rallied to him, against the stale GOP establishment, in 2016, would stand betrayed. Again. You get used to it.

Don’t Panic Yet

But none of that may happen. Trump may well prove truer to his promises, and his own long-term best interests, than we fear. I think that amid all his bluster he has a deep and heartfelt concern for ordinary Americans of every shade. Those were the people he got to know on the building sites as he  worked in real estate. They’re the people who braved the scorn of every elite opinion organ, left and right. Who put on their MAGA hats and walked past screaming and spitting mobs of Antifa brats to hear Trump speak.

The Trump family courtiers could work together with establishment Republicans to turn this into, effectively, the first term of President Jeb Bush. Minus the goodwill that liberals would have granted us for electing a mumbling nebbish.

Those are the people Bannon spoke for, and I know he’ll continue to do that. When the mainstream media was trying to whip the country into a frenzy over his role in Trump’s White House, we here at The Stream dug deeper. We looked at what Bannon had actually said over the years. We pointed to his principled and vitally centrist stances on trade, immigration, patriotism, and nationhood. Jason Jones wrote at CatholicVote of “The Steve Bannon I Know,” highlighting how Bannon’s views represent the best in Catholic social teaching. You know, the stuff you’ll never hear most U.S. bishops mention. Read these powerful excerpts from a talk Bannon gave at the Vatican in 2014.

Even where I disagreed with Bannon’s emphasis on tariffs and saving old industries per se, I knew that he was right in his crucial thrust: America’s elites have comprehensively betrayed us. From labor unions to churches, from party headquarters to the halls of academia. Whatever their party label, those who feel at heart that they are citizens of the Acela Quiet Car or International Business Class, look at the rest of us and are puzzled. We seem to them like chimps or orangutans, as they peer through the wire fencing. “So close to human, and yet so far… . Fascinating.” 

There’s time and room and need for inclusive, principled populism — if only to blast out the windows of the smug, stale echo chamber that muffles debate over crucial policies, from immigration to religious liberty.

Of course the elites in the media, and the old guard in the GOP, want to smoosh together all populists with the tiny, contemptible fringe that makes a fetish of race. Just so, Southern segregationists wanted to claim that all civil rights workers were Communists. Don’t let them get away with that.

Now that Steve Bannon is off the chain, I’m sure that he won’t let them. The hound has been loosed, and he’ll hunt.

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