Deep State Banishes Bannon and Company

My take on Steve Bannon’s recent firing is at odds with the celebratory tone I detect from others, especially those claiming it’s a victory for decent people. It was nothing of the sort, and Bannon wasn’t banished for any of the reasons we’ve read about in mainstream media accounts.

Why was Bannon so objectionable, and to whom? Sure, he’s a white nationalist, bigoted, Islamophobic, anti-Semitic, hate-mongering egomaniac. And like so many of his peers in the upper circles of the corporate, military and political world, he’s probably a psychopath. No problem.

He’s also a fervent disciple of capitalism, but, for his intra-elite enemies, the wrong kind. It was Bannon’s anti-globalist, “American First,” nationalistic and even isolationist positions that guaranteed his exit. For example, he strongly opposed General McMaster’s plea to deploy additional troops to Afghanistan and military intervention in Venezuela. He wanted to normalize relations with Russia while the corporate financial oligarchy salivated over a profitable new Cold War. Bannon favored a new trade war with China, something that’s anathema to U.S. corporations dependent on low-wage, non-unionized Chinese labor. No wonder that when news of Bannon’s departure appeared on screens at the New York Stock Exchange, “wild cheering” broke out.

What’s going on is that we’ve just witnessed a re-consolidation of control by one element of the power structure over the other, a struggle in which neither side cares a whit about us. In the 2016 election, the hybrid network of structures where actual power resides—sometimes termed the Deep State—favored Hillary Clinton. She was the eminently reliable bride of Wall Street and a proven warmonger. They could have lived with Jeb Bush, but Clinton was a more known quantity.

After spectacularly underestimating Trump’s appeal, the global capitalists began methodically forcing out all those around the president who shared Bannon’s world views.  They were replaced with Wall Street and military types so that we’re now ruled by an unelected Goldman Sachs/military/national security state. Having neutered Trump, it’s unnecessary to carry out a soft coup, assuming he continues to be only a figurehead and isn’t even more of a loose cannon. Because Trump has no real convictions other than self-promotion and only said what was needed to hoodwink voters, this shouldn’t pose a problem.

Bannon, who was Trump’s Svengali, has returned to his Breitbart News bunker to continue—his term—”the war.” During the campaign, he sensed that millions of white Americans felt marginalized, treated unfairly, angry, and despairing about the future. In short, many of these once-loyal Democratic voters felt, quite rightly, that they were being screwed over by the system. His “genius” was to promote and pander to the fears and insecurities that vexed so many of those who increasing self-identified as white voters. He also listed (often by coding) those responsible for their plight. Some were valid: condescending elites from both parties, trade pacts patently unfair to American workers, and Wall Street’s influence. Other reasons were demonstrably untrue: people of color, immigrants, and Muslims.

It’s unarguable that Trump has gone back on all the changes he promised. But Bannon and his ilk are secure in the belief that Trump supporters, many of whom are former Democrats, are rubes who, being fed a potent mix of half-truths and scapegoating, will continue to behave against their own best interests in 2020. On leaving the White House, Bannon disingenuously said, “The longer they talk about identity policy, I got ’em…If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Of course, the Democratic Party long ago abandoned the working class, economic justice, peace and environmental sustainability. They offer nothing but failed, endless wars, austerity at home, “Russia gate” fantasies, continued fealty to their corporate sponsors, and Hillary clones.

Very few people reading this piece have a dog in this hunt. It behooves us to look elsewhere before our dire situation becomes terminal.

Gary Olson is professor and chair of the political science department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA. He is the author of Empathy Imperiled: Capitalism, Culture, and the Brain (New York: Springer-Verlag, 2013). He can be reached at: olson@moravian.edu. Read other articles by Gary.