This post has been updated, 5:40 p.m.
Stephen K. Bannon is out. After seven months as the chief strategist to the president of the United States, Bannon is gone.
I would have been more excited about this seven months ago. It is better to get rid of the termites before they have successfully laid eggs in all your possessions.
You cannot muster much enthusiasm over the fact that a man who promised he would take a sledgehammer to everything you held dear is finally, months later, not in the house any longer. It is hardly as though he did not get the chance to put cracks in all the things he wanted broken.
Besides, it is less than consoling to hear that someone has evicted the rat-king, when you can see full well that that “someone” is just a tangle of cockroaches hissing to themselves under an ermine robe. Fine: There is one less hideous tangle of rats affixed to one another by the tails running amok in your home, but it is not as though you can fumigate. And when the word comes that it was because the rat-king was too vocal in its complaints to the media about the cockroaches’ handling of household affairs, you wonder.
Look at the news this week. If there were any doubts that seven months was plenty of time for Bannon to lay eggs in all the drapes (the ones with James B. Comey and the ones without) so that his work could continue without him when he flew back into his cave, Tuesday’s presidential news conference should dispel them. The president is springing to the defense of white supremacists and Nazis. Breitbart’s work is done here.
Sure, as BuzzFeed’s Ben Smith notes, Bannon claims to be an “economic nationalist” and suggests that whenever a white nationalist is drawn to him or his work it comes to him as a total and unpleasant surprise, but this seems like a pretty fundamental error for a so-called strategic mastermind to have made every day for years and years and years. If all you serve are enormous cones full of red meat sprinkled with dog whistles, after a certain point you cannot keep pretending to be an ice cream truck. President Trump certainly seems confused on the subject, if his remarks this week are any indication.
There are good reasons to fire Bannon. Those reasons were all apparent seven months ago. That, instead, he is gone because he was, say, suspected of leaking, or because his suddenly redoubled message of economic nationalism was clashing with this new sympathy to white nationalism everyone was rolling out this week — offers slim cause for rejoicing. It is less of a statement to fire a bad contractor when he is already done with the job.
“I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,” he told a writer for the Daily Beast. All right. Some things are down already. Norms are tied up in the corner of the Oval Office, whimpering and bleeding badly from the head, watching in horror as the eggs begin to hatch. Large hunks of our international prestige shuddered faintly and then vanished, leaving only a hollow echoing sound and a picture of Justin Trudeau holding a puppy in their place. Slim consolation.
And he still has Trump’s cellphone number. Breitbart remains his mouthpiece. (Breitbart is a news outlet only in the sense that newspapers too can be used to wrap up dead opossums and thrown into dumpsters.) And he claims he is “unchained,” finally. Like Cerberus. “Steve is unchained. Fully unchained,” one of his allies told the Atlantic’s Rosie Gray. There is a loose bannon on our hands. Was there ever anything else?
And what exactly is he going to attack in the White House? The thin veneer of sanity that Chief of Staff John F. Kelly attempted to create by doing the managing equivalent of stapling Trump under the wallpaper and pretending not to see the lump? The people who see what he has done and pronounce it “disgusting” on their way past the media and into their offices?
Perhaps this departure is still cause for rejoicing. As the Internet says, one monument to a hideous cause has come down, at least. But has it been torn down, or brought to life? Has the statue been demolished or is Pinocchio a real boy, live and walking openly among us?
The statue itself is not everything. The figurehead is gone but the ship is still sailing in the same direction.
The hideous ideas he gave succor and shelter to are spreading. Breitbart gave the alt-right cover; now they are out in the streets with torches. Bannon is gone, but everywhere, his eggs are hatching.