Friday, August 26, 2016

Stephen Bannon gets it wrong

ON WEDNESDAY night in Jackson, Miss., Republican nominee Donald Trump was joined onstage at a campaign rally by an unlikely ally from an unlikely place: Nigel Farage, one of Britain’s outspoken right-wing champions and a key figure in the successful anti-immigrant Brexit referendum to take Britain out of the European Union.

Farage, apparently bidding to become the Enoch Powell of his time, has cultivated his own brand of intolerance to Britain, saying that women are “worth less” than men, and calling for an end to laws that bar employers from race-based discrimination, and a ban on legal immigrants' children attending public schools and receiving health services.

Farage, who may well be the Brit Donald Trump, told the Jackson crowd that “I will say this: if I was an American citizen, I wouldn’t vote for Hillary Clinton if you paid me!”

(Right. But of course you’re not an American citizen, Mr. Farage. So who cares.)

Farage’s appearance at The Donald’s side was part of a new Trump campaign approach devised by Stephen Bannon, former Breitbart editor, Brexit supporter and now Trump campaign jefe grande. Farage’s Mississippi photo-op was apparently a Bannon attempt to globalize the American election — and it wasn’t the only one.

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In a tweet on Wednesday, Michael Calderone, senior media reporter for The Huffington Post, quoted Bannon from a conversation in July. Here’s part of what Bannon told him about his shift in Trump campaign strategy:

“So, we look at themes globally as the center-right populist revolt against the permanent political class. Whether that’s [conservative author and political consultant] Peter Schweizer hitting on crony capitalism, or our guys in London following Front National in France. It’s all of one theme. We think that Nigel Farage will be a politician that rises one day, Donald Trump the next. But it’s a bigger, tectonic plate.

“And that’s why we kind of laugh at, particularly cable news and sometimes other sites that, they sit there and they’re so wrong on everything. We just think, hey, they’re not taking the time to look at these fundamental issues, whether it’s what’s driving Bernie Sanders on the left or what’s driving this kind of populist, tea party revolt on the right.”

Bannon spoke of “themes globally” and quickly superimposed them onto the United States, invoking a seismological geological metaphor to help make a socio-political argument, and otherwise building a scenario just provocative enough to sound plausible, and ominous, and unavoidable.

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BANNON SUGGESTS that Trump, his current employer, is in the vanguard of leaders that oppose the “permanent political class,” by which he means Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party. Trump, Bannon says, will be among the first of a new class of enlightened novices whose very inexperience with American bicameral politics is somehow what recommends them for the American presidency.

But a closer reading of Bannon’s eloquent deception, a casual reading of American political history, and a look at the Trump campaign itself get you closer to what’s real.

Don’t get it twisted: Stephen Bannon doesn’t have a problem with a permanent political class in the United States. He just wants one with a Republican brand, a Republican identity, a Republican style of governance. He wouldn’t be working for Trump if that weren’t true.

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That forward-looking statement’s based on past performance. In recent decades, the Republican Party and conservatives generally have been bent on the pursuit of empire.

The GOP’s lust for imperium in the recent political era was pretty much made clear, and even defining, when Paul Weyrich, one of the architects of modern conservatism, addressed an audience at a Religious Right gathering in Dallas in 1980.

Weyrich, a co-founder of the Heritage Foundation — the most respected and feared conservative public policy organization in the country— and of the Moral Majority (with the Rev. Jerry Falwell), said:

“How many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome? Good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down.” [Italics mine.]

With that statement, with those three sentences, Weyrich ratified the very exclusion and voter disenfranchisement that would make a “permanent political class” not just possible, but inevitable.

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CONSERVATIVES in recent federal election cycles have taken that ball and run with it, doing everything they can to cement that way of thinking in the contemporary conservative mindset. It’s worked only too well; Republicans led the efforts, at the state and federal levels, to undercut voter turnout in the 2012 campaign, and again — more aggressively — this year.

In 2001, with a Republican president and fat or substantial majorities in both houses of Congress on the horizon, hubris was inevitable. In a 2001 CNN report, Prince of Darkness Karl Rove went so far as to say that, if George W. Bush was elected, the possibility was there to “usher in a permanent Republican majority.” Which is, obviously, another way of saying “permanent political class.”

Fast forward to January 2010: The United States Supreme Court handed down its momentous decision on Citizens United v. FEC, ruling 5-4 that the First Amendment to the Constitution barred the government from restricting independent political expenditures by a nonprofit corporation. The basic principles of the Citizens United case were extended to cover for-profit corporations and other organizations as well.

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In effect, the decision — hailed by conservatives — equated corporations with human beings. Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the dissenters, observed: “The Court’s blinkered and aphoristic approach to the First Amendment may well promote corporate power at the cost of the individual and collective self-expression the Amendment was meant to serve. It will undoubtedly cripple the ability of ordinary citizens, Congress, and the States to adopt even limited measures to protect against corporate domination of the electoral process.”

Since such deep-pocketed donations can’t be made by flesh-and-blood individuals, Citizens United effectively conveys unto corporate entities powers of influence well beyond the scope and reach of most everyday American citizens.

In this way, the SCOTUS decision by definition fosters precisely the conditions needed to establish a permanent political class in the United States.

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NOW FAST forward to November 2014. After the congressional elections, Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said Republicans could possibly have a “hundred-year majority” in the House.

"We're back to a majority as big as any of us have seen in our lifetimes,” he said, as reported in The Hill. “It may be a hundred-year majority.” If that’s not a wish for a permanent political class, it’s hard to see what is.

Bannon’s outwardly egalitarian, storm-the-ramparts rhetoric clashes with the political reality he seeks in his alliance with Trump. And his casual use of the word “populist” to describe it couldn’t be more wrong. The populism he espouses is hardly the broad-based, demographically diverse experience that “populism” truly describes. Bannon supports (and the candidate that he supports believes in) an anti-populism, rule by a different set of the very elites he sees in the Democratic Party.

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As we’ve witnessed in this election cycle, there’s a profound disconnect between what Republicans say they are and what they really are. That disconnect was obvious when Trump imported a foreign politician to sway domestic public opinion, a foreigner stating a preference in our national election that wouldn’t be tolerated for a minute if the Democrats dared to do the same thing.

The GOP’s internal disconnect is obvious when you look at what Stephen Bannon told Michael Calderone and what Stephen Bannon really meant.

His full-throated opposition to a “permanent political class” has to reckon with his party, his party’s legacy and its belief system — all of which have a history of supporting exactly what he says he’s against.

Image credits: Bannon: Danny Moloshok/Associated Press. Farage and Trump: Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images. Weyrich: via Wikipedia.

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