Steve Bannon’s Bold Persistent Experimentation
SNA (Tokyo) — Since his mid-November appointment as Senior Counselor to President-elect Donald Trump, the controversial Steve Bannon has kept himself almost entirely out of the headlines, with the sole exception of a widely-read interview in The Hollywood Reporter. That article fully deserved the attention it received, as almost every paragraph was weighty in its meaning.
Among the most significant revelations was the nature of the political strategy that Bannon would be whispering into Donald Trump’s ear as the new administration commences.
At the heart of his strategy is economic nationalism: “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist,” Bannon was quoted as saying. “It’s everything related to jobs,” he later added. And once again he repeated, it would be “conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.”
In order find the correct policy to create the needed jobs, Bannon stated, “We’re just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks.”
If this sounds familiar, it should. While Bannon does not name former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in this interview, he is echoing, quite consciously, FDR’s strategy at the outset of the New Deal. As FDR famously declared in his address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia, on May 22, 1932: “The country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands, bold persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails admit it frankly and try another. But above all try something.”
The author of The Hollywood Reporter piece, Michael Wolff, commented that throughout the interview Bannon expressed “an unreconstructed sense of class awareness, or bitterness — or betrayal.”
Bannon said, “I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan,” and that the political stakes were, “If we deliver, we’ll get 60% of the white vote, and 40% of the black and hispanic vote, and we’ll govern for fifty years.”
Steve Bannon’s political vision, then, is to marry rightwing nationalism with the economic policies of the New Deal. It’s essentially the same formula as the European fascism of the 1920s and 1930s.
It also lays bare the utter failure of the Democratic Party, which has moved so far away from being the party of FDR that its natural political constituency, the working class, feels unrepresented and betrayed. They are now even willing to vote for the erratic demagoguery of the clownish billionaire Donald Trump.
As hateful an individual as he is, the political threat posed by Steve Bannon is real. His notion that if the Trump administration is seen to have delivered substantial economic benefits to the working class, that they could then entrench a Republican majority for decades is not a fantasy. That’s precisely what FDR did for the Democratic Party in the 1930s.
The key point to watch, however, is whether or not Trump’s own cabinet, and especially the Republicans in Congress, are willing to go along with kind of economic policies advocated by Steve Bannon. Their own ideological commitment to trickle-down economics and, especially, their political dependence on what Bannon correctly calls the “donor class” seem likely to assure that the wickedly brilliant strategy envisioned by Trump’s senior counselor will never actually be implemented.
Indeed, even Bannon’s trillion-dollar infrastructure plan might be twisted by the Republican Congress into some kind of billionaire-friendly privatization boondoggle that fails to deliver the promised economic relief to ordinary workers.
But at any rate, the political initiative is now distinctly in the hands of rightwing Republicans. Those who are committed to open and progressive values had better hope that the Republicans thrust aside Steve Bannon’s clever advice and fail to seize the chance to out-FDR the former party of FDR.
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