It is hard to stop gaping at the hole where a fragmentation bomb blew up inside Trumpworld this week, prompting the president, under fresh if prepackaged attack, even by his own senior former adviser, to return massive fire.
I refer primarily to the unfiltered, reckless statements -- ravings -- that author Michael Wolff attributes to Steve Bannon in Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. After breaking in the Guardian, these same statements were carried as a news story at Breitbart and have since gone unrefuted, also undiscussed by Steve Bannon. He has offered no reason to doubt them.
Proceeding from the premise that his remarks have been accurately transcribed, a couple of questions start taking shape, even in the politically concussed mind. The first is, What was he thinking, this super-supremo-"strategist," by deciding to show off, trash-talk, turn-coat, and unload on this perfectly hostile media emissary to Trump and MAGA? The White House, USA reports, claims it was Bannon himself who "signed off on most of Wolff's access."
If that last bit is true, duck.
Another question: How did Steve Bannon go from being that nearly anonymous person he used to be -- someone who worked behind the scenes, literally and figuratively, whether making documentaries or editing an extraordinary news site -- to becoming a public character of mass-media-pumped proportions, his own sense of himself, apparently, barely tethered to Planet Earth by straining, unraveling ropes?
Back at the beginning of this metamorphosis I readily assumed that the fame, the notoriety, was all greatly thrust upon him after his elevation to presidential campaign chairman by Donald Trump. No, he wasn't the first presidential campaign chairman in American history, but sometimes it almost seemed that way, once he started drawing relentless fire. Certainly, the by-the-Marxist-playbook demonization of him as a white-supremacist-nationalist-fascist was out of his control. Even that spate of Bannon-as-Trump's-brain stories, which marred those early months of the forming and new administration, I assumed, were purely media concoctions, nasty psychological means of getting at and undermining Trump and his "brain" both for being this "white supremacist nationalist fascist." Only later did I wonder whether Bannon himself was planting or helping along these "brain" stories in some purposeful way. I don't know what is the case here, but I do know that I was quite shocked by one tweet amid the rubble this week by David Martosko, the Daily Mail's US political editor.
Whether Bannon himself was a lead author of his own image-making, the question remains: How did he come to believe it? That is, how did he come to believe that he really Bestrode the Colossus, etc. -- seemingly, that he, not The Donald, actually won, or really should have won, the presidential election?
It is entirely possible that this was alll just a natural process -- that Steve Bannon was entirely self-radicalized, if you will, into, say, reportedly weighing his own presidential run in 2020. At the same time, it seems worth noting he has had two particularly loud, particularly fawning flatterers publicly praising him to the skies and beyond along the way: David Horowitz and Sebastian Gorka, who has worked for Bannon inside and out of the White House. Did their coaching have any effect on the psychological turn of recent events?
There was something blatantly preposterous about the buzz Bannon and his allies, particularly Horowitz and Gorka, generated around Bannon's White House departure last August -- this silly notion that Steve Bannon and MAGA and America First and even Donald Trump, too, were all bigger and better and more powerful with Bannon outside the White House; that leaving a top slot at the White House for his old chair at Breitbart was actually a kind of promotion if not coronation.
Horowitz announced Bannon's departure in a piece headlined: "Steve Bannon Leaves the White House: And a new phase of the war for American begins."
He lays it on pretty thick, which turns Trump into chopped liver.
Despite the departure of their hero, Bannon, Trump’s political base will not desert him because Bannon is gone. ...
He will now be a general to the troops on whom Trump’s future depends ...
Bannon’s role in this war will be even more important now.
“Now I’m free,” Bannon said after he left. “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, ‘it’s Bannon the Barbarian.’ I am definitely going to crush the opposition. There’s no doubt. I built an f---ing machine at Breitbart. And now I’m about to go back, knowing what I know, and we’re about to rev that machine up. And rev it up we will do.”
It was Bannon the Barbarian, all right. A myth of his own creation? Probably so. Then again, was he in some way encouraged to take his pose public by sycophantic mentor(s)?
Consider again the absurd notion that Steve Bannon's leaving the White House was gaining, not losing, political power.
At Horowitz's Restoration Weekend in November 2017, Gorka described the alchemical process thus, even as he also implicitly diminishes Trump:
I know lots of you were very, very disturbed when Steve resigned and lots of you were very disturbed when I resigned. But it's okay. We're still here, and in fact, we are much more able to support the President on the outside than we are on the inside. The Left celebrated. They had their champagne parties when Steve resigned. Oh, how silly they are. Steve Bannon, with his resignation, became the most powerful man in America outside of the Oval Office, and that's just a fact.
So, the Make America Great Again agenda has nothing to do where my office is, or where Steve's office is. It doesn't even have to do with Donald Trump. It's about the principles of the founding of this republic and everybody in this room doing their part to make sure that we return to those principles.
Yes, that makes no sense whatsoever. Bannon aside: "Everybody in this room" had already done their part within the American election cycle to make sure we return to founding principles by voting Donald Trump, specifically, into the White House, specifically. Which has everything to do with Donald Trump -- the only candidate in modern history to win the presidency on America First. Gorka's deconstruction of the Trump phenomenon, on top of the Bannon hooey, seem to prefigure this week's fragmentation of the nascent, Trump-created America-first movement.
Then again, is it also possible that the fulsome affirmations by these Bannon yes-men are just unforced, pure, man to man admiration speaking -- stout, oh-so-humble voices of fellow combatants, as Horowitz put it, of Frontpage and Breitbart, "for twenty years and more"?
Note that at Horowitz's Frontpage, Steve Bannon attracted virtually no attention whatsoever until after Breitbart emerged as the MAGA-magnet, the "buck-wild" media platform Horowitz had never himself been able to create, no matter how many millions of dollars foundations and donors gave him.
Note also that Bannon's dryest period, 2014-2015, happens to follow and overlap Breitbart's copious coverage of Frontpage's "disinformation campaign" against American Betrayal, which included essays in the book's defense by Vladimir Bukovsky and M. Stanton Evans, plus the first publication of my own 22,000-word rebuttal to Radosh and Horowitz's first wave of attacks.
2016, however, was a brand new day. Horowitz would stow his colors (Jeb Bush, it seemed) and run up his own MAGA flag at Breitbart News, writing, quite bizarrely (considering that he is the editor of his own news site), a series of op-eds in support of the increasingly victorious Trump. These included Horowitz's over-top-the-top-weird "Renegade Jew" headline, which drew charges of "antisemitism" to Breitbart, which Horowitz then gladly fended off as the newest Breitbart musketeer.
By year's end, Horowitz named Steve Bannon "Man of the Year."
"While Donald J. Trump on his own had already changed the political landscape, if he had not hired Steve Bannon as his chief executive officer, it is doubtful he would be president-elect today," Horowitz said, adding (in case anyone didn't get it the first time): "[I]n the absence of his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the promise [Trump] now holds out for America ... might never have reached the White House ... Which is why an unsung hero, Steve Bannon, is our “Man of the Year.”
It's not that Our Man of the Year Steve Bannon was not indispensable to the Trump victory. However, there was a veritable Basket of Indispensables which also included campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, and, probably most indispensable of all, Julian Assange and Wikileaks. Was Horowitz, who also gave Bannon a "courage award" in 2017, and later Gorka, too, merely recognizing Bannon for his talents, or enveloping him? I don't recall the Nation, for example, crowning David Plouffe, campaign manager of another longshot victor over the Clinton machine, etc., in 2008. Has this pair been playing some kind of personality game, which, from the MAGA point of view, has backfired?
I don't expect to learn the answer, but I can see that Horowitz and Gorka have been speaking from the same script about Steve Bannon. If Horowitz claimed Bannon was the most powerful man in America outside of the Oval Office, so did Gorka. If Horowitz implicitly nudged Trump down several notches as he lifted Bannon up, so did Gorka.
At the moment, anyway, I can't think of anybody else who hammered on these same themes.
Sebastian would hit them in a particularly noticeable way during an October interview with Breitbart News Radio after giving a speech (which preceded Steve Bannon's speech) at the Value Voters Summit.
On being complimented for his remarks, Gorka said:
It's easy when you've got a crowd like this and just tell them what Steve told them. ... We are going to take back the republic from the Swamp. ... This is the key message. ... The success of November the 8th is about it making it happen. It's not about Donald Trump -- he's great, he broke the stranglehold of the Swamp -- but it's about us supporting the president. ...
We have to understand that the Left were having, you know, their canapes with their champagne when Steve resigned, and when I left they were having, I don't know, you know, parties and orgies all through the night ... but they have to realize wat that moment was.
It's the penultimate scene from "Star Wars" before, you know, George Lucas messed with it. It's when the master Jedi, Ben Kenobi, is fencing with Darth Vader, and he says to Darth: "If you strike me down now, Darth, I will be more powerful than you can ever imagine."
That's Steve Bannon! We can do things, legally ... outside the White House that we couldn't do as government officials.
And I'll tell you this unequivocally: Steve Bannon right now is the most powerful man in America outside of the White House. And that's thanks in part due to his decision to come out.
Of course, maybe Bannon was always the man behind him own messaging. Or maybe it's all just a coincidence.
Whatever show we've been watching, the special effects are very convincing.