The elite media is currently awash with fascinated hogwash about Steve Bannon, President Trump’s White House strategist. Time magazine devotes its current cover to an intentionally unflattering cover photo of and snarky cover headline about him. Time is joining the elite media lynch mob.
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” Mr. Bannon said in an interview on Wednesday.
“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
The New York Times headlined the report of this snippet of an interview “Trump Strategist Stephen Bannon Says ‘Media Should Keep Its Mouth Shut.’” Many other elite news outlets echoed that take. An alternative, higher integrity, and more interesting approach would have been “Steve Bannon says the media ‘should just listen for a while. … They don’t understand this country.’”
That declaration is self-evident to most people who live outside what Michael Wolff, in an interview with Bannon, called “the metrosexual bubble.” That’s most of us.
Presumably Bannon himself is enjoying the spectacle the elite media is making of itself. He’s likely taking the rhetorical rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air as an affirmation that he’s “over the target” as in the old World War II bomber crew adage, “If you’re not catching flack you’re not over the target.”
That said, it’s poor journalism. Memo to the elite media: What you are serving up is Olds, not News. H.L. Mencken summed it up perfectly 99 years ago in In Defense of Women:
Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.
Steve Bannon is just the elite media’s imaginary hobgoblin du jour. If you read what Bannon says, in context, it is dramatically different from the twisted version of him being put out there.
Some specifics on the case for Bannon as a good, maybe even great, man soon. Let’s start with a brief historical narrative that provides a useful metaphor.
[Alexander]… conquered the Phrygians at whose chief city, Gordium, which is said to be the seat of the ancient king Midas, he saw the famous chariot fastened with cords made of the rind of the cornel-tree, which whosoever should untie, the inhabitants had a tradition, that for him was reserved the empire of the world. Most authors tell the story that Alexander finding himself unable to untie the knot, the ends of which were secretly twisted round and folded up within it, cut it asunder with his sword.
As Wikipedia notes, this event is “often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an ‘impossible’ knot) solved easily by loophole or ‘thinking outside the box’ (‘cutting the Gordian knot’).” Trump, having won the most powerful office in the world, is auditioning for the role of Great (albeit through political, not military, conquest).
The confounded situation in Washington is the Gordian knot. We all want it untied. I’ll settle for having it cut.
Steve Bannon, in this metaphor, is the sword to cut the knot asunder. To indulge in a pathetic fallacy, the long-intractable knot of Washington does not like being cut. It is protesting loudly.
One hostile media tactic is to faux-exalt Bannon. The New York Times editorial board called him President Bannon in a mischievous effort to provoke his boss’s ire. Sad!
Here is another example of the elite media’s perversity or perhaps mere density. The Daily Beast, in “Steve Bannon’s Long Love Affair With War,” based on some fascinating information furnished by estranged friends, attempts to paint Bannon as a warmonger. And fails:
You can also find Bannon’s affection for military and strategic ruthlessness in what he reads. According to two of Bannon’s former friends from his West Coast days, two of his favorite books are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, the hugely influential ancient Chinese text on military strategy, and the Hindu Bhagavad Gita. The latter tells the story of a holy war to establish dharma.…
Bannon “used to talk a lot about dharma—he felt very strongly about dharma… one of the strongest principles throughout the Bhagavad Gita.”
Well. Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is a leading Taoist classic. As myself a student of Sun I happen to know that the heart of this classic is the principle of winning a war without battle. Sun:
to achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy’s army without doing battle is the highest of excellence.
As the Science of Strategy puts it, stating the consensus view of Sun, “While Sun Tzu offers many rules for succeeding by minimizing conflict’s costs when it is unavoidable, he teaches that the best strategy is always avoiding conflict.”
The Daily Beast drew the exactly wrong inference. It serves up backspin.
As for the Bhagavad Gita, dharma is a deeply spiritual concept. The Gita is a Scripture cherished by the humanity’s third largest, and oldest, religion. As noted by the Dharma Yoga Center:
Dharma can mean “law of the universe,” “social and religious rules,” and/or one’s own individual mission or purpose. On the individual level, it can also mean a number of things. For example, in the Gita, Krishna points out to Arjun that his Dharma is to be a warrior whether he likes it or not. He cannot escape his Dharma and he must fulfill it.
Arjuna is a warrior for what is right and just. He is not just a warrior for fighting’s sake.
It is not possible to do the concept of dharma justice in a paragraph. It is infused with deep and subtle spiritual significance, steeped in conscience and devotion to “what is right and just.” Per the Gita one must be unflinching in defense of the right and just, even to the point, when unavoidable, of war. This was lost on the Daily Beast.
Fascination with these Asian classics, of course, is also antithetical to charges of xenophobia. In an otherwise hostile column the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker states, “If Karl Rove was George W. Bush’s brain, Bannon is Trump’s conscience.”
Kathleen? Read some Bannon before you tie your noose or, perhaps, New Gordian Knot.
Bannon’s own words are consistent with a view of him as ruthlessly… compassionate. In 2014 Bannon gave a speech, via Skype, to a gathering of the Human Dignity Institute at the Vatican. Buzzfeed recently provided the full transcript. As I elsewhere wrote of it:
Steve Bannon has furnished an impromptu manifesto for the movement that, with the help of Bannon and others, propelled Donald Trump into the presidency. Those who wish for a framework to better understand what a Trump presidency portends — and the nature of the underlying movement — need look no further than Steve Bannon’s remarks to the Human Dignity Institute.
In this proto-Manifesto — all the more authentic for being extemporaneous — Bannon displays breathtaking erudition. And he convincingly lays to rest the unfounded fears that he sympathizes with the “white nationalist” movement:
By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we’ve been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it’s not. But there’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more….
I think when you look at any kind of revolution — and this is a revolution — you always have some groups that are disparate. I think that will all burn away over time and you’ll see more of a mainstream center-right populist movement.
Bannon’s words call to mind Theodore Roosevelt, who coined the phrase “lunatic fringe” in an essay about the famous “Armory Show” of 1913:
It is vitally necessary to move forward and to shake off the dead hand, often the fossilized dead hand, of the reactionaries; and yet we have to face the fact that there is apt to be a lunatic fringe among the votaries of any forward movement.
Serious journalists are obligated to also confront Michael Wolff’s exclusive interview with Bannon published in the Hollywood Reporter:
“I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” he tells me. “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver” — by “we” he means the Trump White House — “we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed.”
Even — maybe especially — Bernie Sanders supporters might well applaud Bannon’s economic philosophy from his Vatican speech:
One thing I want to make sure of, if you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored. I can see this on Wall Street today — I can see this with the securitization of everything is that, everything is looked at as a securitization opportunity. People are looked at as commodities. I don’t believe that our forefathers had that same belief.
Why are those who celebrate the skeptical view of Wall Street propounded by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren not giving Steve Bannon a standing ovation? Why have the left and the elite media (but I repeat myself) organized themselves into a lynch mob on Bannon’s persona?
The left has legitimate disputes with Bannon, some serious. I too sometimes do, for instance over tariffs, immigration, and, most crucially, neglect in restoring the monetary policy which history shows to be the safe, real deal, way to restore sizzling job creation and upward income mobility for workers.
Great job creation is the goal about which I, like Bannon, am most passionate. I, a member in good standing of the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, am also a dues-paying member of the AFL-CIO. Upward mobility is a value the left also champions.
Donald Trump, on some issues, also has disputes with Bannon. But now hear this: Bannon is coming from the space of “civic society,” not hate. I get where he’s coming from and going to albeit am not always am in full accord as to how he plans to get from here to there. Such disputes aren’t grounds for fury.
Bannon also shows self-awareness and winsome self-deprecation: “We’re the know-nothing vulgarians.” As for his supposed cocktail party trope about being a Leninist it’s doubly hilarious for his inversion of Leninism to mean anti-Statism and in watching the left recoiling in horror, maybe for the first time, at an invocation of Lenin.
Vilification of Bannon is over the top. Hello CNN, speculation that he’s plotting a coup is pure tinfoil hat cuckoo. Trump, with Bannon’s counsel, is flooding the zone. That’s not a coup d’état. (Might be a coup de foudre, something else entirely.) Bannon is merely playing, to appropriate the title of Chris Matthews’ best book, Hardball.
Apparently hardball’s just fine when the left plays it and appalling when done by populist conservatives. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?
Reporters covering Bannon may just be prisoners of their own dogma. They may be not malicious, just too tone deaf to hear and report the plain meaning of his words, too blind to get a good picture of his deeds.
Whichever it is, Steve Bannon can take care of himself. America, however, is vulnerable. By presenting grotesque caricatures of Steve Bannon the elite media and the left are inflicting injury on the American people and violating their own commitment to social justice.
Ignore the elite media’s imaginary hobgoblin.
Encounter for yourself the real Steve Bannon.