Good Bannon Profile

The New York Times deserves credit for hosting Christopher Caldwell’s (Weekly Standard) profile of Bannon. It’s measured, thoughtful and informed. Caldwell paints a picture of Bannon – that he concedes may be incomplete – as an “intellectual in politics excited by grand theories.” As Caldwell mildly puts it, that is “a combination that has produced unpredictable results before.”

Some interesting bits:

Standard bearing for the party of ideas?

Perhaps because Mr. Bannon came late to conservatism, turning his full-time energy to political matters only after the Sept. 11 attacks, he radiates an excitement about it that most of his conservative contemporaries long ago lost.

 Quoting Evola does not equal fascist:

There may be good reasons to worry about Mr. Bannon, but they are not the ones everyone is giving. It does not make Mr. Bannon a fascist that he happens to know who the 20th-century Italian extremist Julius Evola is. It does not make Mr. Bannon a racist that he described Breitbart as “the platform for the alt-right” — a broad and imprecise term that applies to a wide array of radicals, not just certain white supremacist groups.

Back to that party of ideas thing . . . although a little old-fashioned:

Where Mr. Bannon does veer sharply from recent mainstream Republicanism is in his all-embracing nationalism. He speaks of sovereignty, economic nationalism, opposition to globalization and finding common ground with Brexit supporters and other groups hostile to the transnational European Union. On Thursday, at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference, he described the “center core” of Trump administration philosophy as the belief that the United States is more than an economic unit in a borderless world. It is “a nation with a culture anda reason for being.”

More ideas, but good ones (aka ones I agree with), although I could do without the quotations and pejoratives. Also, I’m genuinely impressed (and saddened) that the MSM (and everyone “outside the hall”) still slavishly eye-rolls critiques of the administrative state:

But Mr. Bannon, unlike Mr. Trump, has a detailed idea, an explanation, of how American sovereignty was lost, and of what to do about it. It is the same idea that Tea Party activists have: A class of regulators in the government has robbed Americans of their democratic prerogatives. That class now constitutes an “administrative state” that operates to empower itself and enrich its crony-capitalist allies.

When Mr. Bannon spoke on Thursday of “deconstructing the administrative state,” it may have sounded like gobbledygook outside the hall, but it was an electrifying profession of faith for the attendees. It is through Mr. Bannon that Trumpism can be converted from a set of nostalgic laments and complaints into a program for overhauling the government.

Even more ideas, although, back to the slightly head-scratching and perhaps troubling:

Mr. Bannon adds something personal and idiosyncratic to this Tea Party mix. He has a theory of historical cycles that can be considered elegantly simple or dangerously simplistic. It is a model laid out by William Strauss and Neil Howe in two books from the 1990s. Their argument assumes an 80- to 100-year cycle divided into roughly 20-year “highs,” “awakenings,” “unravelings” and “crises.” The American Revolution, the Civil War, the New Deal, World War II — Mr. Bannon has said for years that we’re due for another crisis about now. His documentary about the 2008 financial collapse, “Generation Zero,” released in 2010, uses the Strauss-Howe model to explain what happened, and concludes with Mr. Howe himself saying, “History is seasonal, and winter is coming.”

Even, even more ideas, with a little does of heterodxy, some tastes for the Bernie Trumping crowd, and there it is again, the old timey ‘Judeo-Christian’ paleo stuff:

Mr. Bannon’s views reflect a transformation of conservatism over the past decade or so. You can trace this transformation in the films he has made. His 2004 documentary, “In the Face of Evil,” is an orthodox tribute to the Republican Party hero Ronald Reagan. But “Generation Zero,” half a decade later, is a strange hybrid. The financial crash has intervened. Mr. Bannon’s film features . . .  investment manager Barry Ritholtz . . . [who] says that the outcome of the financial crisis has been “socialism for the wealthy but capitalism for everybody else.”

By 2014, Mr. Bannon’s own ideology had become centered on this distrust. . . . “Not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis.” He warned against “the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism,” by which he meant “a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people.” Capitalism, he said, ought to rest on a “Judeo-Christian” foundation.

The allusions to paleos are no accident — that’s the (somewhat over-determined) picture Caldwell is trying to draw:

It was Pat Buchanan who in his 1992 run for president first called on Republicans to value jobs and communities over profits . . . By 2016 his views on trade and migration, once dismissed as crackpot, were spreading so fast that everyone in the party had embraced them — except its elected officials and its establishment presidential candidates.

And of course, if you’re talking about a culture war, you’ve got to mention THE ISLAM. No, Caldwell deserves credit for drawing a distinction between Islamism and the Islamic world generally, even if he simplifies the history a bit:

Mr. Bannon does not often go into detail about what Judeo-Christian culture is, but he knows one thing it is not: Islam. Like most Americans, he believes that Islamism — the extremist political movement — is a dangerous adversary. More controversially he holds that, since this political movement is generated within the sphere of Islam, the growth of Islam — the religion — is itself a problem with which American authorities should occupy themselves. This is a view that was emphatically repudiated by Presidents Obama and George W. Bush.

Caldwell resists the temptation to drop Bannon in a neat ideological box, or even any box that makes him purely an ideologue. But Bannon’s “respect for duty” still comes across as a bit romantic:

But Mr. Bannon’s ideology, whatever it may be, does not wholly capture what drives him, says the screenwriter Julia Jones. Starting in the early 1990s, Ms. Jones and Mr. Bannon began writing screenplays together, and did so for a decade and a half. She is one of the few longtime collaborators in his otherwise peripatetic career. As Ms. Jones sees it, a more reliable key to his worldview lies in his military service. “He has a respect for duty,” she said in early February. . . .

I would 100% watch this mini-series:

For two years, according to Ms. Jones, the two of them worked on the outline of a 26-part television series about seekers after the secrets of the human self, from Arthur Conan Doyle to Nietzsche to Madame Blavatsky to Ramakrishna to the Baal Shem Tov to Geronimo. “It was his idea,” she said. “He assembled all the people.”

But the Sept. 11 attacks, Ms. Jones says, changed him, and their collaboration did not survive his growing engagement with politics. Speaking of his films, she says, “He developed a kind of propaganda-type tone of voice that I found offensive.” Ms. Jones is a literary person, left-liberal in politics. She regrets that Mr. Bannon “has found a home in nationalism.” But she does not believe he is any kind of anarchist, let alone a racist.

Caldwell wraps things up with a measured insight into why Bannon may actually be cause for concern:

He is a newcomer to political power and, in fact, relatively new to an interest in politics. He is willing to break with authority. While he does not embrace any of the discredited ideologies of the last century, he is attached to a theory of history’s cycles that is, to put it politely, untested.

Including, by far, my favorite line:

Most ominously, he is an intellectual in politics excited by grand theories — a combination that has produced unpredictable results before.

Caldwell reminds us though that Bannon is not unique as an “intellectual in politics” even if he is a different kind of intellectual:

We’ll see how it works out. Barack Obama, in a similar way, used to allude to the direction and the “arc” of history. Some may find the two theories of history equally naïve and unrealistic. Others may see a mitigating element in the cyclical nature of Mr. Bannon’s view. A progressive who believes history is more or less linear is fighting for immortality when he enters the political arena. A conservative who believes history is cyclical is fighting only for a role in managing, say, the next 20 or 80 years. Then his work will be undone, as everyone’s is eventually.


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