John Nichols in Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to The Most Dangerous People In America (2017) writes in "The Jacksonian Democrat: Stephen Bannon: White House Senior Strategist" that Steve Bannon reads history. A lot of it. Bannon is of an age where he is more likely to be found with a book under his arm than one of the electronic screens into which his operations fed so much fake news before, during and after the 2016 presidential campaign. The former naval officer, special assistant to the chief of naval operations at the Pentagon, Harvard Business School graduate. Goldman Sachs investment banker, Hollywood mogul, new-media entrepreneur, right-wing propagandist, political Svengali and alt-president regularly reads his way into places no one ever expected to find him. Then the smartest person in the room, he rewrites the rules to make history of his own.
For most of his long career as a corporate, entertainment and political provocateur, Bannon has accomplished his literary and personal shape-shifting without being noticed by the people he does not want to notice him. He likes to be underestimated. "Darkness is good," says Bannon. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they (the enemies) get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing."
Bannon's remarkable intellectual and organizational skills, and his sly strategies were so complex until the actual elites had little to fear from Bannon, who had spent a lifetime in their service and now proposed to cut their taxes and end the regulations of their business empires. The old guard and media had much to fear, so they ignored him or ridiculed him, or condemned him. Bannon ideologues, socially awkward hedge fund manager, seemingly un-electable presidential candidates--who were willing to front for a modern Machiavelli who had no concern with titles, but a great interest in positioning himself as the new power behind the throne.
During the 2016, many commentators imagined that it was all a game for Bannon and for Trump. This was the theory that launched a thousand speculative pieces by media writes who imagine that the haphazard race they ran after their billionaire mentors Robert and Rebekah Mercer put them together with Kellyanne Conway was part of some grand scheme by Bannon to jump-start an alt-right challenger to Rupert Murdoch's flailing Fox News network. But Bannon had already done that when he took over the late Andrew Breitbart's bad-boy network. Bannon took charge and Trump was his ticket.
Impossible? Hardly. Bannon knew his history. "I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” Bannon gleefully announced when writer Michael Wolff came to visit him at Trump Tower after the election. A conservative propagandist with "traditionalist" tendencies like Bannon would of course be attracted to Cromwell myth, except of course for the part where Henry VIII sours on Anne of Cleves and has Cromwell executed for treason and heresy, [similarly, Chief-of-Staff Kelly had Bannon excommunicated from the White House].
Bannon encouraged Trump to link his presidency with that of Andrew Jackson. Bannon was advancing a long-term project to make Trump Jacksonian. During the Trump transition, a senior aide to the president-elect told the Daily Beast that Bannon would "encourage (Trump) to play up the comparison" and push the theory that Trump's campaign and message was a clear descendant of Jacksonian populism and anti-political elitism." Bannon, the aide said, "is why Trump keeps equating himself with Andrew Jackson."
Nichols posits that on the "Trump's Jacksonian project like so many other, it still falls to Bannon to fill in the blanks, as he has done since even before he formally signed on with the Trump campaign. A year before Bannon joined trump's campaign staff, he described himself in the email as Trump's de-facto 'campaign manager,' because of the positive coverage that Breitbart was giving Trump. The coverage had largely been underwritten by the Mercers," noted a March 2017 Jane Mayer profile of Robert Mercer in the New Yorker titled "The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Manager Behind the Trump Presidency: How Robert Mercer exploited America's populist insurgency." In addition to providing "a public forum for previously shunned white-nationalist, sexist, and racist voices," noted Mayer, "Breitbart enable Bannon to promote anti-establishment politicians whom the mainstream media dismissed, including Trump." Trump, [already a New York bigot], in turn, learned the politics of anti-Obama "birtherism," immigration scaremongering and, above all, Muslim-bashing from Bannon's alt-right website.
BANNON & FASCISM
John Nichols declares that now that Trump is president, Bannon is teaching him what kind of president he should be. It's a troublesome process. Much has been made of Bannon's fascination with European neofascists and actual fascists, from the Italian philosopher Julius Evola, who thought Mussolini was soft but respected the style of German Nazis like SS head Heinrich Himmler, to French anti-Semitic author Jean Raspail, whose book The Camp of the Saints has been compared to Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf. Then there's Bannon's own 2014 speech to a conservative Christian conference at the Vatican, where he mentioned Evola, decried "the immense secularization of the West,” declared that "we're at the very beginning states of a very brutal and bloody conflict: and announced that "we are in an outright war against jihadists, Islam, Islamic fascism." Those comments, when reexamined after Trump assumed the presidency, inspired headlines like "President Trump's right-hand man Steve Bannon called for Christian holy war: Now he's on the national Security Council." (Bannon was eventually edged out of a formal National Security Council role, though not necessarily out of the orbit, as photos from the Situation room at the time of the early-April Syrian bombing mission revealed). Conservative pundit Glenn Beck, who calls Bannon "quite possibly the most dangerous guy in all of American politics," compares the White House insider with Joseph Goebbels. John McCain's veteran aide, John Weaver, says: "The racist, fascist extreme right is represented footsteps from the Oval Office."
But the foreign ideological influences aren't the only troubling ones. So, too, are the grabs for shards from America's past, especially those that remain from when it has veered in racist, nativist and crudely nationalist directions. Vox's Dylan Matthews that in addition to "Jackson’s role in American Indian removal via The Trail of Tears; Jackson "owned hundreds of slaves, and in 1835 worked with his postmaster general to censor anti-slavery mailings from northern abolitionists" and that "Jackson's small-government fetishism and crank monetary policy views stunted the attempts of better leaders like John Quincy Adams to invest in American infrastructure, and led to the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis that touched off a recession lasting seven year."
Joshua Green in Devil's Bargain, Donald Trump And The Storming Of the Presidency (2017) writes that for all his paranoid alarm, Bannon believes that the rise of nationalist movements across the world, from Europe to Japan to the United States, heralds a return to tradition. "You have to control three things," he explained, "borders, currency, and military and national identity. People are finally coming to realize that, and politicians will have to follow." The clearest example of Traditionalist political influence today is Russia. Vladimir Putin's chief ideologist, Alexander Dugin--whom Bannon has cited--translated Evola's work into Russian and later developed a Russian-nationalist variant of Traditionalism known as Eurasianism.
Bannon initially thought restoration lay in a rising political generation still some years off: figures such as Frauke Petry, of German's right-wing Alternative fur Deutschland, and Marion Marechal-Le Pen, niece of Marine, whose politics he approvingly described as "practically French medieval,” adding: "she's the future of France." It took some time for him to realize that in Trump (whose familiarity with French metaphysics, we can be certain, is no more than glancing) he had found a leader who could rapidly advance the nationalist cause [i.e., Traditionalism].
When he took over Trump's campaign in August, Bannon did indeed run a nationalist, divisive campaign in which issues of race, immigration, culture, and identity were put front and center. This wasn't by accident or lacking in purpose, even if the candidate himself didn't care to understand its broader historical context. By exhuming the nationalist thinkers of an earlier age, Bannon was trying to build an intellectual basis for Trumpism, or what might more accurately be descried as an American nationalist-Traditionalism. Whatever the label, Trump proved to be an able messenger.
STEVE BANNON'S THOUSAND-YEAR REICH
Nichols posits that Steve Bannon, Trump's Jackson whisperer, does not speak of the dark side of "Jacksonian democracy." But he does speak, a lot, about building a Jacksonian movement in contemporary America. "Like Jackson' populism, we're going to build an entirely new political movement," he says, describing the rough mix of tax breaks and infrastructure-job promises that he thinks will work. Maybe. "We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks," says the strategist. "It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution--conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement."
Nichols writes that what made the 1930s exciting [besides the rise of Hitler and the Nazis] was the determination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his "New Deal" administration to take on the plutocrats in order to make work for everyone, build out a social welfare system and develop a regulatory state to protect those who were most in need and most vulnerable. Bannon proposed the opposite with a narrower vision of "economic nationalism," promises to "let our sovereignty come back to ourselves," an apocalyptic vision of the threats facing the United States, visceral disdain for the "corporatist, globalist media" that he says really is "the enemy" and visceral excitement about "the deconstruction of the administrative state."
Nichols declares that Steve Bannon's vision harkens back to the Democratic Party of the thirties. But it is not the 1930s and the Democratic Party of Franklin Roosevelt. It is the 1830s and the Democratic Party of Andrew Jackson.