There’s a mismatch between the political press and the White House it is intended to cover. Political scribblers like myself are primed to greet the news of Steve Bannon getting bounced from the White House as an event with significance for the battle of ideas in the White House and in the Republican party.
We want to say that Bannon’s a “populist” of some sort, an anti-China guy, an America Firster. Heck, he even advocated tax raises on high-income earners. And we want to say that his enemies in the White House are either social-climbing socialites (liberals), generals who favor more military engagement (hawks), or business guys who think government is here to goose growth through interest-rate and tax policy.
And on some level, I’m sure that’s true. Supposedly the White House is still setting federal regulations and encouraging certain legislative items to come forward in Congress. But increasingly it seems that judging the White House in these terms is like trying to determine the stock price of different suntan-oil companies by following the ups and downs on episodes of Jersey Shore. The ideology is just the furniture and props that the characters throw at each other in set-piece fights. Trade protectionism: a sofa overturned in a tantrum. A vow to fight the globalists: a box of Valtrex fired across the room in anger.
Steve Bannon has vowed “war” against Rupert Murdoch, Matt Drudge, and his enemies in the Trump White House. Sure, sure. Bannon claims to hate the media, but he sure likes providing the rep-tie-wearing Washington press corps with entertaining plot twists and new-season teasers. We don’t need political writers to cover this. We need reality-TV-show recappers and gossip columnists. We need WWE scriptwriters.
So here’s the next season of Populist Revolt, the new series on Breitbart.com and talk radio. The pitch is “Let Trump be Trump.” Our merry band of editors and radio gabbers are going to save Trump and Trumpism from the administration that Donald Trump picked for himself. Will anyone notice that “Let Trump be Trump” is a stale reprise of a 1980s plot of “Let Reagan be Reagan”? Probably not. Well, anyway, Bannon is better at the stagecraft these days.
Maybe they can string this plot out long enough, perhaps until the Democrats nominate their next presidential candidate, the next globalist, cultural-Marxist threat to good solid American blah, blah, blah. Then the producers of the populist psychodrama will launch the next season of Make America Great Again. “We admit it, the first Trump term stunk. But he’s finding his political soul again at the rallies. Look, he encouraged another fist fight! He fights!” Or maybe Trump’s approval ratings tank enough and Bannon’s crew distance themselves from Trump the way Sean Hannity eventually abandoned Arnold Schwarzenegger.
People who write about politics and have Twitter accounts will continue to lose their sense of sanity trying to cover this administration as if doing so gave them membership in a dignified profession. Being a part of the Fourth Estate of a history-making republic seems respectable. Being a Steve Bannon fanfic analyst sounds like something else.
Perhaps the decent thing one can do for one’s sanity is to become a proper conspiracy theorist. What a relief it would be if George Soros, Vladimir Putin, or the members of Bohemian Grove were pulling all the strings. Who cares if they’re evil? At least they’re adults taking responsibility for the world we live in. Until today I thought Louise Mensch and other Putin obsessives were unhinged. Now I wonder if they aren’t pioneers of self-care and self-help. If the world is insane, the only way to restore a sense of balance is turn your own screws until loose.
Steve Bannon is out. Tune in next week for Steve Bannon strikes back. You’ll be watching. Donald Trump will be watching. Are you not entertained?