While President Trump remains consumed by his insatiable need for attention, approval and validation, the theory goes, White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon has an ideological grand scheme in mind. In various settings, he has said that he wants to blow up the existing order. It’s far from clear what this might entail.
“I think the consistent, if you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction — the way the progressive left runs is, if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation in — in an agency,” he said at the Conservative Political Action Conference event. “That’s all going to be deconstructed, and I think that that’s why this regulatory thing is so important.” As we discuss below, however, only certain types of “regulatory things” get jettisoned.
In a speech given at the Vatican via Skype in 2014, Bannon declared that “we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.” His grandiose vision extends well beyond the United States: “Look, we believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement. We’ve seen that. We were the first group to get in and start reporting on things like UKIP and Front National and other center right. With all the baggage that those groups bring — and trust me, a lot of them bring a lot of baggage, both ethnically and racially — but we think that will all be worked through with time.” A global clash of civilizations with “blood and soil” nationalist soulmates sounds like a formula for an overwrought fantasy novel, not a governing philosophy based on our democratic values and the modern world.
The gobbledygook and apocalyptic talk can distract from more prosaic matters. What is he against? The post-World War II international liberal order — that is, the rules-based international capitalism and devotion to democratic norms that revived Europe and Asia and brought a couple of billion people out of poverty. How the common man benefits from eviscerating all that remains unclear.
Destroying the “administrative state,” you would think, requires that he tell us whether the “administrative state” includes the safety net, entitlement benefits, anti-insider trading and consumer protection laws, anti-discrimination statutes, labor restrictions, transportation/infrastructure building, etc. Well, some of that he and Trump have vowed to keep or even expand. And, of course, for all of his condemnation of international Wall Street, most everything in the Bannon-Trump agenda — from the repeal of Dodd-Frank to rolling back environmental laws — has the effect of enriching industry. I suppose the “administrative state” means those parts of government that have interfered with the accumulation of wealth by Trump, Bannon and his billionaire Cabinet officials.
Bannon might seek to destroy the characteristics of the “administrative state,” the rational, rules-based system that ideally does not play favorites and impartially administers justice. Those pesky rules and objective criteria — as opposed to the elevation of favoritism, racial identity or brute force — were thought to be a good thing for the last couple of hundred years. And speaking of the post-Enlightenment world, he and Trump are particularly hostile to scientists, journalists, health professionals (Trump is anti-vaccination, remember), statistics, math and photographic evidence. These are “elites” or “fake news” sources. As the source of contradiction and criticism that thwarts Bannon-Trump’s irrationality and bias, they are indeed the enemies of their state.
Religious wars, hyper-nationalism and abandonment of reason historically don’t have a good track record, as you know. (Religious wars in Europe? World Wars I and II?) Perhaps that is why Bannon and Trump like to dwell on their enemies rather than detail what institutions they want to get rid of and what would replace them.