Last time, I was derailed from my plan of pontificating on the 2020 election by Steve Bannon’s firing – an event that, in my opinion, marks Trump’s capitulation to the establishment Republican forces he ran against in 2016, and suggests that the coalition that put him in the White House might be starting to unravel. I’ll be very happy if this development hurts our so-called President’s re-election chances. Still, I’m sorry to see Bannon go, since that pretty much eliminates any chance that the Trump administration might someday do something useful.
Don’t think the Don is about to turn into Mr. Nice Guy because he dumped the Prince of Darkness. Trump didn’t need Bannon’s assistance to become a jerk. He came up with his birther bullshit on his own, and he still has that Sun/Uranus conjunction in his natal chart. Trust me – he’ll continue to be every bit as obnoxious and unpredictable in the years to come, as he’s been to date.
Bannon’s a nationalist, and so am I, so my views – to a certain degree – overlap with his. In my previous posting I tried to clarify what I mean by nationalism, and I’ll take another crack at it here. I’m proud of my country, and especially of our democratic political system. I regard the American people as a great community, a political family, in which each of us has an equal right to prosper and be heard. I believe all Americans have a duty to promote the welfare of the country as a whole, and that the country has a corresponding duty to every individual one of us. I think the prime task of our national leadership is to develop policies that, as far as possible, enable all Americans to flourish together. And, especially, I think we should use our limited resources to solve our own problems, and leave other nations to look after themselves.
I’m well aware that Trump’s slogan of “America First” could be an appropriate label for my point of view, but I prefer a different refrain – the words spoken by George McGovern at the Democratic convention of 1972, with reference to the Vietnam War – “Come Home, America.” And if you think about it, while these two mantras have very different historical origins, they mean the same thing: that our true responsibility is to ourselves, not to causes and interests far from our shores.
As I suggested Monday, Bannon was hardly a perfect spokesman for my kind of nationalism. Yet, though liberals will be surprised to hear it, he was very good on some issues – the ones, alas, where Trump tended not to take his advice.
Thus, he’s been a firm opponent of military adventurism – arguing against the missile strike in Syria, against saber-rattling over Korea, and against the troop buildup in Afghanistan. Alas, warlike instincts and counsels prevailed on those occasions. He was also a voice against armed intervention in Venezuela, so it’ll be curious to see what happens there, now that he’s left the White House. Trump, a typical chickenhawk, is awed by generals; Bannon, a veteran, isn’t.
Bannon’s also been surprisingly good on economic issues. He actually wanted to raise the marginal tax rate on multi-zillionaires – astounding for a Republican! And he pushed for Speaker Ryan’s Border Adjustment Tax, the only truly nationalistic proposal to come out of Congress for some time, which I’ve praised in other postings. Both these ideas were shot down by the rich dudes Trump has selected as his economic team. And Bannon advocated stern action against China on trade, in opposition to those preferring a go-easy approach on alleged “geopolitical” grounds. On that issue, he prevailed – but he’s gone, and his adversaries still inhabit the West Wing.
I’m not saying Bannon has been an entirely positive force. He was instrumental in concocting Trump’s Muslim travel ban and his immigration policy – logical, perhaps, from a nationalistic standpoint, but incredibly controversial and of very doubtful value. With unerring bad judgment, Trump has embraced the unattractive aspects of Bannon’s world-view, while spurning most of the more appealing parts.
In some respects, Bannon isn’t consistently nationalistic. The first Times piece I linked to referred to Bannon’s “nationalist, conservative agenda.” This formulation at least acknowledges that nationalism and conservatism aren’t exactly the same thing, but in fact there’s some major tension between the two. Bannon does his best to meld them, but there are problems. I’ll mention just two.
First, Bannon has declared a crusade against the “administrative state,” by which he seems to mean bureaucratic federal regulations. Insofar as the Trump administration is doing anything, they’re cutting back on these allegedly intrusive rules. This is indeed an ideologically conservative position. Yet a real nationalist should surely understand the importance of a strong central government, able to implement the general will of the American people. A proactive national government that provides tangible benefits can help knit our population together. The conservative fetishizing of states-rights is about as un-nationalistic as anything can be.
Second, genuine nationalists are unifiers. Bannon and Trump are dividers. From the very beginning, Breitbart’s game plan was based on stoking white resentments, and so was Trump’s Presidential campaign. For either of these guys to speak the language of national unity is a travesty. It’s too late to remedy that.
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