A few days ago, I noted that Steve Bannon seems to be the only member of President Donald Trump's inner circle untouched by the Russia scandal, which is one reason that President Trump has turned to him to run his war room to fight all the "fake news" about Russia. He's taken to the task with relish, apparently. According to an excerpt of "Devil's Bargain," the new book by Joshua Green about the Bannon-Trump relationship, Bannon is particularly focused on destroying the reputation of special prosecutor Robert Mueller. We haven't seen any results as yet, but we can be sure he's working on it.
But just because Bannon isn't tainted by the current Russia scandal, it doesn't mean that there isn't any Russia connection.That seems to be almost a requirement in this administration. Indeed, Bannon has been called Trump's Rasputin by more than a few observers and there's a good reason for it. He's got a lot in common with the famous mystic that goes beyond the fact that they are both known for their slovenly appearance and lack of normal social graces.
As usual, the media is busy pulling out the juicy quotes from Green's book. And Green does seem to have had amazing access to many people, most especially Bannon himself whom he apparently interviewed at length. For instance, Green reported that "when Trump came under fire because his campaign hadn’t produced a single policy paper, Bannon arranged for [aide Sam] Nunberg and Ann Coulter, the conservative pundit, to quickly write a white paper on Trump’s immigration policies. When the campaign released it, Coulter, without disclosing her role, tweeted that it was 'the greatest political document since the Magna Carta.'"
Think about that. They actually called on Ann Coulter to write a policy paper on immigration.
Bannon is also quoted calling House speaker Paul Ryan a “a limp-dick motherfucker who was born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation,” when he heard that Ryan was being floated as a possible replacement for Trump in the event of a contested GOP convention. It's a colorful insult but it's imprecise. Paul Ryan wasn't born in a petri dish at the Heritage Foundation; he was spawned in the kitchen sink of the Ayn Rand institute. They are on related shores of the conservative movement fever swamp but they aren't the same, and Bannon knows that. He gave a scathing critique of Rand's Objectivism in a notorious speech he delivered to the Human Dignity Institute in 2014, a conservative Christian group that promotes the “Christian voice” in European politics. He said:
The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism . . . that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost — as many of the precepts of Marx — and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they’re really finding quite attractive. And if they don’t see another alternative, it’s going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of “personal freedom.”
It's a little bit difficult to sort out exactly what Bannon does believe since he's definitely a populist and nationalist. Mostly, it seems, he's a sort of spiritualist, like the Russian Rasputin. According to Green, Bannon's most important influences are René Guénon, a French writer whose 1929 book "The Crisis of the Modern World" stated that everything started to go to hell in 1312 when the Knights Templar were destroyed; and Julius Evola, an Italian writer whose 1934 book, "Revolt Against the Modern World," influenced Mussolini. Interestingly, that book was also a seminal work for the Russian philosopher Alexander Dugin, Vladimir Putin’s most influential ideologue, and the man who once called Steve Bannon his ideological soulmate.
According to Alexander Verkhovsky, director of Russian SOVA, a Moscow-based NGO monitoring ultra-nationalist groups, “Dugin is talking about creating some new cross-cultural nation of anti-Atlantic, traditional ideology—his theory often sounds like a pretty fascist approach. He said and wrote a lot, calling for a war in Ukraine; many Russian nationalists who listened or read Dugin’s texts actually joined the insurgencies in Ukraine afterward.”
So, while Bannon may not have any direct association with the current Russia scandals, in some ways he's the one member of the administration who genuinely a close ideological affiliation with that country's leader.
Bannon's Weltanschauung is that we are living in a dark dystopian period of cultural disintegration and loss of tradition in which the West is in sharp, perilous decline. He is not an upbeat guy. His philosophy meshes nicely with Trump's more shallow "get off my lawn" nostalgia, and plays well to the anxieties and insecurities of people for whom the modern world is changing much too fast.
Green recounted an episode late in the campaign in which Trump ran a TV ad full of anti-Semitic imagery. It was foul and many people complained. “Darkness is good, don’t let up,” Bannon told Trump.
Green told NPR, "the kind of tragic, Shakespearean irony of the Donald Trump-Steve Bannon relationship is that Bannon finally did find the vessel for his ideas who could get elected president . . . [but who] now doesn't have the focus, the wherewithal, the self-control to even do the basic things that a president needs to do."
Thank goodness for small favors.