The writing was on the wall for Steve Bannon on Tuesday afternoon. Speaking in the gilded lobby of the Trump Tower in New York, the president of the United States took a short break from defending neo-Nazis and attacking “fake news” to comment on the future of his chief strategist — who he pointedly refused to call “Steve.”
“Look, I like Mr. Bannon,” Trump told reporters. “He is a friend of mine, but Mr. Bannon came on very late. You know that. I went through 17 senators, governors, and I won all the primaries. Mr. Bannon came on very much later than that, and I like him.” Trump added: “We’ll see what happens with Mr. Bannon.”
Well, it didn’t take long: Bannon, as of Friday morning, is out, six months after his controversial switchover from Trump campaign chief executive to White House chief strategist. He joins Gen. Michael Flynn, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, Katie Walsh, and Anthony Scaramucci on the outside. As Oscar Wilde nearly remarked: to lose one member of your inner circle may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose six in six months looks like sheer chaos.
Let’s be clear: Trump’s sacking of “Mr. Bannon” is not a repudiation of Bannon-esque, or Breitbartian, white nationalism. Rather, it is a clear consequence of Bannon, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. As Trump’s remarks on Tuesday indicated, he wanted to make clear to the world that he is his own man — or, as he once declaimed in an early-morning tweet: “I call my own shots.” For the thin-skinned, egomaniacal, and attention-hungry president, White House staffers have only one mission: to boost him, not themselves.
Thanks to relentless leaking from inside the White House, we have known for some time that Trump has been bothered by the rise and rise of Bannon. He was annoyed by the Time magazine cover story that asked whether the chief strategist was now “the second most powerful man in the world.” He was irritated by the #PresidentBannon hashtag on Twitter and upset over the SNL sketch showing Bannon running the White House while the president sits at a kid’s desk playing with toys. And, in recent days, Trump was angered by the much-discussed new book by Joshua Green, “Devil’s Bargain,” which suggests that it was the former Breitbart boss who paved the way for Trump’s shock victory over Hillary Clinton. “That fucking Steve Bannon taking credit for my election,” Trump recently told a friend, according to BuzzFeed News.
For the Narcissist-in-Chief, who perhaps values and cherishes his electoral college win more than he does four of his five children, it was the final nail in Bannon’s coffin. Whatever else you say or do, don’t you dare take credit away from The Donald!
History, however, will remember the hiring, not the firing, of Bannon. How on God’s green earth did a U.S. president bring into his White House as chief strategist a man who proudly called his Breitbart news site “the platform for the alt-right”; published pieces on Breitbart during his tenure as executive chairman, with headlines, such as “Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?” and “Political Correctness Protects Muslim Rape Culture”; allegedly objected to the number of “whiny” Jews at his daughters’ school; took inspiration from notorious Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl; produced a closing ad for the Trump presidential campaign that, according to the Anti-Defamation League, used “images and rhetoric” that “anti-Semites have used for ages”; suggested disenfranchising black voters might not be “such a bad thing”; said he wanted women who “lead this country” to “be feminine” rather than “a bunch of dykes … from the 7 Sisters schools”; declared “Islam is not a religion of peace” but “a religion of submission” and also called it “the most radical” religion in the world; warned that the U.S. could turn into the “Islamic States of America” and dubbed American Muslim organizations a “Fifth Column”; seemed to approvingly cite Italian fascist thinker Julius Evola; repeatedly nodded to a “stunningly racist French novel” called “The Camp of the Saints” that warns of a migrant invasion of the West; expressed admiration for the anti-Semitic French philosopher and hero to the European far right, Charles Maurras; joined the controversial and secretive Council for National Policy, alongside extremists, who according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, “regularly defame LGBT people with utter falsehoods” and “describe Latino immigrants as … rapists and disease-carriers”; and whose White House appointment in January was welcomed by America’s leading white nationalists and neo-Nazis, including David Duke and Peter Brimelow, who called it “excellent” and “amazing”?
The answer is pretty simple and straightforward: Trump shares Bannon’s worldview. Or as the New York Times’ Glenn Thrush tweeted: “Ultimately you don’t need a Bannon when you are a Bannon.”
Look, the Great Manipulator, as Time called Bannon, may have encouraged Trump’s worst, most crude, most bigoted tendencies — but they were Trump’s tendencies to begin with. The White House chief strategist, for instance, was reportedly one of the key architects of the “Muslim ban”, but does anyone seriously expect that ban to be lifted now he is gone? Remember: the president was promising a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in December 2015, long before Bannon joined Team Trump.
The Leader of the Free World has form on nativism, xenophobia, and racism, as I have pointed out before. Consider the past few days: Bannon may have influenced Trump’s response to the domestic terror attack in Charlottesville, but he did not force Trump to provoke howls of outrage across Capitol Hill, the business community, and the wider West on Tuesday by referring to the “very fine people” on the neo-Nazi, KKK-aligned side; nor did Bannon dictate Trump’s dog-whistling tweet on Thursday praising the “beauty” of Confederate monuments.
Yes, Bannon has finally gone and we can all rejoice. Sebastian Gorka and maybe even Stephen Miller might eventually follow him out of the White House doors. But Trump remains. That’s the inescapable, unavoidable, undeniable problem; that’s the orange-skinned gorilla in the room. I hate to agree with Trump but Bannon or no Bannon, John Kelly or no John Kelly, the president does indeed call his own shots. Especially the racist ones.