WHEN PRESIDENT TRUMP appointed Stephen K. Bannon to a senior position in his White House shortly after last year’s election, we thought it was a bad sign. Given Mr. Bannon’s career as a far-right media entrepreneur, one who trafficked in inflammatory racial resentments and grandiose schemes for radical political disruption, his elevation, we wrote, sent “a highly negative signal to all those Americans who did not support Mr. Trump for president but have been willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in deference to the legitimacy of his election.”
Now Mr. Bannon is out, fired from the White House apparently at the behest of the chief of staff, John F. Kelly. If his arrival sent a negative signal about the direction of the Trump presidency, does his ouster send a positive one?
Yes, and no. There is value in the pushback, both from inside the White House and outside, that contributed to Friday’s denouement. It is at least conceivable that both policy and process will improve with Mr. Bannon no longer among the personnel who are responsible for both. Mr. Trump’s instincts, with respect both to what government should do and how it should do it, are bad; yet Mr. Bannon’s function seems to have been to reinforce those instincts. There is some reason to hope that the more moderate, stabilizing figures around the president — that is, the officials with whom Mr. Bannon did relentless bureaucratic battle — may now have more influence. That is all to the good, because even those of us who disagree with most of what Mr. Trump says have an interest in preserving basic stability and functionality at the top level of government.
Yet Mr. Trump is still president. And he still does what he feels like doing, to include standing before television cameras and pronouncing on the moral equivalency of neo-Nazi marchers and those who marched against them. Mr. Bannon might have encouraged those tendencies, but he did not create them. His departure removes a cause of embarrassment (and a constant source of political harassment) for mainstream Republicans in the House and Senate — but it does not end their moral dilemma. They are still committed to a party headed by someone who said, and believed, the things he said about Charlottesville. For his part, the president’s acquiescence in Mr. Bannon’s firing is not a sign that he is rethinking his approach to government. Rather, Mr. Bannon’s usurpation of the limelight, by agreeing to be the subject of a best-selling biography, seems to have been the last straw.
In that sense, the ultimate benefit of Mr. Bannon’s departure may be to clarify the lines of accountability. Mr. Bannon endlessly provoked and infuriated the president’s critics, across the political spectrum, yet he also functioned to distract them. “President Bannon” was not only a myth but also a smokescreen. Personnel is, indeed, policy, and the personnel at the very top remains the same as it has been since Jan. 20.
Read more here: