Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s reclusive chief strategist and the intellectual force behind his nationalist agenda, said Thursday that the new administration is locked in an unending battle against the media and other globalist forces to “deconstruct” an outdated system of governance.
“They’re going to continue to fight,” Bannon said of the media, which he repeatedly described as “the opposition party,” and other forces he sees as standing in the president’s way. “If you think they are giving you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken.”
Atop Trump’s agenda, Bannon said, was the “deconstruction of the administrative state” — meaning a system of taxes, regulations and trade pacts that the president and his advisers believe stymie economic growth and infringe upon one’s sovereignty.
For those who doubted Trump-Bannon’s determination to destroy the liberal international order that has kept world war at bay and promoted global prosperity since the end of World War II, this will come as a rude awakening. Bannon’s simultaneous attack on the media suggests that it is not simply about trade or immigration policy.
From an economic standpoint, Bannon is talking mumbo jumbo. Protectionism and immigration exclusion retard growth; they do not promote it. We do not lose “sovereignty” when our consumers enjoy a higher standard of living thanks to imported goods. And in the regulations department, what could be more of a regulatory burden than cutting legal immigration, trying to influence which suppliers to use via a border adjustment tax or bullying companies about where they set up their plants? This is not about sovereignty; it is about creating an even more powerful government, one that is oblivious to economic reality and ignores the political and economic upheavals that the policies create.
Bannon may very well know that he is peddling junk — crumbs tossed to low-information voters desperate to find a culprit for their economic woes. If he has been listening to U.S. business leaders, allies, informed members of Congress or the Federal Reserve chairman, he must have figured out how counterproductive his nationalist ideas are. (We’ve tried this before in the 1930s — with poor results.) And yet the appetite to decimate liberal Western democracies and shred an international system that has maintained relative peace and prosperity is unabated.
The conclusion one is drawn to over and over is that Bannon and Trump are living out a cultural revenge fantasy. Bannon-Trump remain bonded to their base not because of ideology or agenda, but because they desire the downfall of coastal and urban elites (personified by the media), detest the ethnic and racial demographic trends that continue to make the country more diverse and hold fast to various myths and an exaggerated sense of victimhood (e.g. climate change is a hoax, minorities all live in violent and poverty-stricken cities, Christians are “persecuted”). No wonder the Trump team finds a role model in the anti-Western, authoritarian Russian President Vladimir Putin, who runs a kleptocracy that impoverishes his people, whom he then tries to pacify with grandiose nationalistic ambitions. (They may not have a high-tech industry, but by gosh, the Empire is back!)
When Trump cannot achieve his aims (e.g. replacing Obamacare with a nonexistent superior system that costs less) or when his rhetoric embroils the country in political and economic conflict, members of his base may notice that their lives are not improving one iota. Perhaps some will stick to him until the bitter end. In the meantime, an impressive coalition of rationalists from right and left is developing. From both sides of the political perspective we see Americans amassing who understand that globalism is both desirable and irreversible and that democratic norms are worth preserving. They’ve decided that what Trump wants to destroy — not just Obamacare but also international liberal structures and democracy itself — is worth preserving. Seeing Bannon’s smug delight in smashing the pillars of political and economic stability we have taken for granted should remind anti-Trump Americans: They are in quite a fight, and the stakes could not be higher.