National Opinions

Bannon’s banishment changes nothing

Francis Wilkinson
Francis Wilkinson

If one scorpion is removed from a bag that’s busy with them, does Donald Trump begin to look like a president?

Steve Bannon, who was jettisoned from the bag Friday, has always been the most mysterious member of Trump’s lumpen B-Team. Most of the other scorpions have readily identified portfolios. They work in the Department of Nepotism or the Ministry of Lies or in the Anti-Immigrant Brigade. They oversee the dismantling of Barack Obama’s legacy, or the disrespecting of Hillary Clinton’s person, the two highest pursuits of the Trump administration.

The alleged winners from Bannon’s banishment are the emissaries to the White House from the lands of finance and business, where two plus two very often equals four and where regulations and taxes are for cutting. It’s unclear, however, what exactly they’ve won. The president is still incompetent, the Congress is still dysfunctional and the Republican tax agenda, once it is known, will still be unpopular.

Bannon was the threadbare ideological stuffing inside of Trump’s presidency. Like everything else in this administration, it ended up leaking all over the place.

Bannon’s departure coincided with Trump’s fullest embrace of white supremacy since the real-estate heir’s political career began. And it followed directly in the wake of a book revealing Bannon’s influence on Trump, and Bannon’s interview with a lifelong liberal writer, in which Bannon called ethno-nationalists a “collection of clowns.”

These are the same clowns who Bannon courted and cajoled, reassuring them in their racial and masculine insecurities as he built up the propaganda site Breitbart. The name political scientists give to these clowns is “Trump’s base.” Perhaps Bannon is suddenly eager to abandon them. Trump clings to them for his political life.

It seems Bannon is either a deeply confused man pretending to be brilliant or a morally muddled man who uses whatever tool is at hand to advance his cause. Perhaps he is both. There is also a possibility that he is a chess master with more dimensions to his game than a plebe like me can count. But losing his White House job is not strong evidence of that.

What will the subtraction of one scorpion from the bag mean for the presidency and the country? How could it mean much of anything? Trump is a moral and psychological wreck. His malice can be constrained by law and by a Congress that’s willing to exert itself. But not much by his own staff, who answer to his rage. It’s hard to expect clarity from inexperienced, compromised White House personnel buried in Trump’s rubble.

Bannon will no doubt pursue an interesting path. He could resort to his previous life as a seedy propagandist. Or perhaps, as he suggested to Robert Kuttner, the liberal writer, his former life is a clown show he’s eager to leave behind. That would be easier to believe, of course, if he hadn’t worked so hard to turn the White House into a circus.