Politicians make promises. No one believes them. Presidential candidates say they’ll do this and that, but once in office, Congress may not let them do what they said they’d do. The policy in question may seem too expensive to them, or something that would piss off their constituents – and those men and women want to keep their jobs. Voters understand this, and understand that promises to not get us into another damned war can’t be kept either. Things come up. It happens – and even Trump’s supporters kind of knew that Trump wouldn’t get his wall, and that if he did, Mexico certainly wasn’t going to pay for it. They may not even be all that upset that the effort to repeal Obamacare, and replace it with something or other, fell apart. Obamacare works just fine for many of them. It just needs some work – but the idea of dumping the whole thing was intoxicating. That would stick it to the smug liberals – like ending all the clean air and clear water rules – but then no one wants to choke on foul air, or live on bottled water, when what comes from the tap can kill you. And no one who thought about it for even a second thought that Donald Trump was going to ban all Muslims from entering America ever again, or at least until we figured out what the hell was going on, which we never would. The courts would shoot that down. The courts did. Yawn. There was that Atlantic item about Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh two months before the election, where he said any number of outlandish things, that summed up the situation – “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
There were big promises. Because they were big they were a bit vague – but that was okay. They weren’t going to be kept. Just enough voters in just the right places liked Donald Trump’s instincts. He won the election because those people liked his instincts – but there’s nothing new there. Dwight Eisenhower made his promises, whatever they were – no one remembers now. They didn’t matter. Ike was comforting. Nixon promised to end the Vietnam War and no one believed that for a moment – and he didn’t end that war – but enough people liked his law-and-order instincts. He would put an end to that sixties nonsense. There’d be no more hippies – but then he came up with the Environmental Protection Agency out of the blue, and when inflation got out of control he imposed wage-and-price controls, infuriating the free-market folks. Maybe he was a hippie himself – and there was Reagan. His policies were nasty, but he seemed like such a nice man, and that would do.
That always works. Bill Clinton was a goofball with a heart of gold, and a total policy wonk who would bore people to tears with the details of this and that – but he “felt your pain” and that was enough. The second George Bush was the laconic cowboy – a man of few words, and few thoughts, but solid, in his way. Americans like cowboys, until they screw up – then they turned to Barack Obama – cool and gracious and whip-smart and careful. He was Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles – the “urban sophisticate” amid the cowboys who saves the day – but he really didn’t keep his one big promise. We didn’t get universal health care. Obamacare ended up a mess, an unstable hybrid of government mandates and private free-market for-profit insurance. Reality intervened – but at least he got us out of Iraq – and then sent even more troops to Afghanistan. Still, twice, Americans liked his instincts – thoughtfulness, inclusiveness, and no sudden moves. Eisenhower had returned.
Then no one liked Obama’s instincts anymore. Those who voted for Trump had their reasons. Some wanted to put Hillary in jail. Some wanted Mexicans and Muslims and gays to just go away. Some wanted Obamacare to just go away – people should take care of themselves – hard working taxpayers shouldn’t take care of them. Some were big on small government – the “state” shouldn’t take care of every damned thing. Some saw the end of all abortions, for whatever reason, and an end to all forms of birth control too. Some were just tired of Obama and all the smug urban hipsters – and “climate change” was a smug hoax too. And many hoped the cops would finally take care of the punks – mostly black punks. America turned on a dime.
That may not be true. Those people were always there – maybe forty percent of all voters – but Hillary Clinton was an awful candidate. Bernie Sanders fired people up. Hillary would merely do. She lost where it mattered, in the angry pockets of America. Still, she won the popular vote.
Donald Trump knows this. He announced that his vice president, Mike Pence, would head a massive investigation into voter fraud – to prove that Hillary Clinton had NOT won the popular vote. Three to five million illegal immigrants, who had no right to vote, had voted for her – every single one of them. This was the greatest scandal in America history – and then nothing came of it. Mitch McConnell, the head of Trump’s Republican Senate, said Congress wouldn’t fund any such thing. Paul Ryan, the head of Trump’s Republican House, just smiled. He wouldn’t even discuss it. The press would ask the White House about this new “blue ribbon” panel now and then, and the White House would say the whole thing would kick off soon – but no one believed that.
The press stopped asking, but Donald Trump must know he’s in trouble. Too many people were appalled by his big promises, however vague and unlikely, and don’t trust his instincts one bit. Something has to be done, and Mike Allen reports on what is now being done:
Steve Bannon, the engine and soul of President Trump’s hard-edged approach to his first months in office, is increasingly isolated and will be forced out unless he can adopt a more cooperative approach, a top source told me.
On both style and substance, Bannon got crosswise with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who are pushing for a more competence- and results-driven focus for the West Wing.
In their view, Bannon is too inclined to want to burn things down and blow things up. They want a more open process driven by the interests of the president, not ideology.
A senior official said Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is “with the program” of a more inclusive style, and will stay. Insiders have been feverishly discussing possible replacements and Trump considered a change, but the official said: “Reince is staying.”
Trump may be moving to the center, to the popular-vote folks, and Allen notes this:
The changing culture: Here are the two crucial words to understand the outgoing style and incoming style: We’re told that rather than “nationalist” vs. “globalist,” think of “combat” vs. “collaboration.”
How the Bannon bubble burst: The last straw for his internal critics: news stories portraying Bannon as the keeper of the Trump flame, in opposition to Jared, Ivanka and economic adviser Gary Cohn – all New Yorkers.
Playing defense: Bannon’s allies both inside and outside the White House are scrambling to try to save his job, Axios’ Jonathan Swan reports. They argue that getting rid of Bannon will cost Trump among his “America First” constituency, and that Trump’s key to victory is to keep his base motivated.
So we get this:
This weekend, Bannon, Kushner and Priebus are having discussions about whether the marriage can be saved: “Either Steve becomes a team player and gets along with people, or he’ll be gone.”
So Trump’s daughter and her husband “want a more open process driven by the interests of the president, not ideology” – which, as Josh Marshall notes, does not have much to do with the rest of us:
Let’s not be naive. Personal political interest is always in tension with ideology for every politician. But there is something qualitatively different here. What is I think being accurately described is an understanding of the “interests of the president” which is entirely separate not only from “ideology” but what we’d likely consider even the broadest sort of political viewpoint and belief. The “interests of the president” here is being popular, having strong poll numbers, ‘winning’ as Trump himself might put it. Bannon is putting “ideology” ahead of that.
The rest of us can just watch:
This is superficially like calculations all or most politicians make. But again it’s qualitatively different. Here there really is no tension. A ‘typical’ politician of the right may try to pass himself as cuddly and spendy in a tough political year. But he won’t become a Democrat. He’ll bend as far as necessary to stay in office. A comparable logic applies to embattled Democrats. This, however, is a vision of politics or ideology as a mere product line which is by definition inherently secondary to the interests of the company bottom line.
It goes to the heart of the family, brand-driven, kleptocratic nature of the Trump White House. The core aim is for the President to be popular, to succeed, a goal in key ways even more important to the thirty-something Kushner/Trumps than the 70 year old President.
Politics or policy and ideology, whatever you want to call it, is changeable and secondary, just as Trump can shift from authoritarian isolationist to faux values driven internationalist in a day and a half. This is precisely what you’d expect from people who were probably apolitical or perhaps, if pushed, something like Bloomberg Democrats and then became executors of a far-right, blood and soil, racist nationalist political program. Words and policy have no meaning. What matters is protecting and maximizing the value of the new family acquisition: the presidency.
That’s harsh, but there’s this from the New York Times:
Mr. Bannon has his own core of supporters outside the White House. And he has argued that Mr. Kushner’s efforts to pull his father-in-law more to the center on issues like immigration would poison him with the conservative base – a hopeless position to be in because Mr. Bannon believes so few Democrats would ever consider supporting Mr. Trump.
It is telling that Bannon’s supporters seem obliged to argue their case on Kushner’s terms. Whoever ‘wins’ this battle, it is highly revealing of the Trump White House’s core values.
Those aren’t anyone else’s values, and Josh Marshall dives deeper:
All signs suggest we’re now in the “President Trump has full confidence in Michael Flynn” phase of Steve Bannon’s tenure in the Trump White House. I don’t know whether this is some moron-genius dialectic on Bannon’s part or just Karma. But can we miss that the man who gave coherence and verve to Trump’s campaign against the ‘globalists’ and unrooted cosmopolitan elites is about to be booted by the President’s Jewish tycoon son-in-law and a group of bankers (yes, Jewish bankers) from Goldman Sachs?
That’s a bit disturbing, but Marshall sees this:
It is always important to remember that Steve Bannon came late to Trump’s campaign. As pro-Trump as Breitbart News may have been, it was still seen – understandably – as a wild, suicidal and entirely unexpected development when Bannon was put in charge of the campaign on August 17th, 2016, almost a month after the Republican convention.
Before then, Trump had run a thoroughly jingoistic and xenophobic campaign, with protestor beatings and various shades of crypto- and non-crypto racism. All on his own he drew around himself that coterie of “alt-right” white nationalists and neo-Nazis who will likely be his greatest and most lethal contribution to the American political scene. But it was only with Bannon’s arrival that Trump took on the much more coherent and consistent language of Europe-derived rightist nationalism, anti-“globalism” and the thinly covert language of anti-Semitism.
Let’s be clear. This is no defense of Trump. It was all there all along from rage and intuition and impulse. But Bannon packaged it together and tailored the suit. It was pure Bannon, remember, who was behind the speech that became this notorious anti-Semitic closing ad released on November 5th, 2016.
That may be the subtext here:
All accounts suggest that Bannon has fallen from grace and will soon be fired by the President. His ouster comes as the loser in a battle with a group of Jewish Goldman Sachs (Cohn, Mnuchin) bankers and the tall, dapper and yet nebbishy Jewish legacy real estate tycoon Jared Kushner. (I’m Jewish. I can say all of this.) It all reads like the kind of alt-right morality play one of Bannon’s deplorables might have written in some grand alt-right dystopic novel. Even the non-Jews are veritable auslanders – a key new player is Dina Powell (born Dina Habib), an Egyptian immigrant (albeit a Copt) who was herself a banker at Goldman Sachs in addition to being a Republican policy insider.
Nor is any of this lost on the Bannonites. We keep hearing that in the harum-scarum of the Trump White House the crowd around Kushner is referred to as the “New York Democrats” or various similar formulations. As an older Jewish friend (who reminds me he’s been asked his whole life whether he’s from New York even though he’s from a different part of the country and has never lived in the city) told me yesterday, this language is not accidental. It’s a reference to their being Jews.
Only in the world of Trump could such a turn of events be possible – perhaps also inevitable.
And that circles back to Trump’s instincts:
Trump himself being a ‘populist’ was always in many ways a ridiculous proposition: a doyen of the wealth, entitlement and hedonism that is the aspiration and milieu of New York’s upper crust, Trump connected to his base not through lifestyle but through the experience of disrespect, grievance and the desire for revenge. He ran a campaign which more and more literally and explicitly demonized (especially under Bannon’s late guidance) the ‘globalist’ machinations of Goldman Sachs. Yet, increasingly, he has built an administration run by Goldman Sachs bankers. Of course, it is Goldman Sachs bankers and Jared Kushner – and protectionist ‘economic nationalist’ xenophobes and racists. It’s an interesting combination. They’ve even imported period piece Eastern European racist nationalists to be part of the fun – see, Sebastian Gorka.
Of course there’s chaos:
The one thing we’ve always known about Donald Trump is that it’s all about Donald Trump – Donald Trump and in a tight inner ring almost coterminous with Trump himself, the Trump family. Different rules apply, or rather, there are no rules except what seems to work at the moment for Donald Trump. Until it doesn’t. Or until it does again.
Populist, real American, Jew, reactionary, cosmopolitan, plutocrat, vicious and violent or bombing for the suffering babies, it’s all malleable and subject to revision. But let’s stipulate now that if the ‘alt-right’ wanted to write a betrayal narrative that touched all the ideological erogenous zones on that fetid body of thought they could scarcely have come up with material more charged, melodramatic and grand.
These same people seem to believe that all Trump voters have carefully read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion and every one of those voters thinks that a cabal of Jewish bankers is trying to take over the world, or has already done so. That seems unlikely, but somehow Trump has to hold this all together.
That might be possible, as Robert Reich explains here:
The White House war between Stephen Bannon and Jared Kushner wouldn’t matter in a normal administration with a normal president. But there’s nothing normal about the Trump White House, whose major occupant exists in a giant narcissistic bubble impenetrable by anyone but close relatives and a few strong personalities.
That means that Trump has to deal with this:
Kushner is his trusted son-in-law, a 36-year-old scion of New Jersey and New York real estate who knows nothing about government but a great deal about Trump, and whose portfolio of responsibilities keeps growing by the day.
Bannon is the rumpled hero of the anti-establishment populist base that drove Trump’s Electoral College victory, but who appears to be losing clout.
The fundamental difference between Kushner and Bannon is over populism. Kushner is a politically moderate multi-millionaire with business interests all over the world – some of which pose considerable conflicts of interest with his current duties – and who’s quite comfortable with all the CEOs, billionaires and Wall Street moguls Trump has lured into his administration.
Bannon hates the establishment. “There is a growing global anti-establishment revolt against the permanent political class at home and the global elites that influence them, which impacts everyone from Lubbock, Tex., to London, England,” he told The New York Times when he took the helm at Breitbart News in 2014.
This was an odd mix that kind of worked:
These opposing views could coexist for a time. For example, Bannon explained to the Conservative Political Action Conference in late February that one of his major goals is the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
If Bannon meant trimming back regulations emanating from administrative agencies, it’s an idea that Wall Street and CEOs love. Trump has wholeheartedly embraced it. “We are absolutely destroying these horrible regulations that have been placed on your heads,” Trump declared last Tuesday to a group of enthusiastic chief executives from big companies like Citigroup, MasterCard and Jet Blue.
But Bannon actually meant something quite different. To Bannon, “deconstructing the administrative state” means destroying the “state” – that is, our system of government.
“I’m a Leninist,” Bannon told a reporter for the Daily Beast a few years back (he now says now he doesn’t recall the conversation). “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
Trump was fine with that for a time:
Under Bannon’s tutelage, Trump has attacked the core institutions of American democracy. He’s lashed out at judges who disagree with him; called the press the “enemy of the American people;” denigrated fact-finding groups such as the intelligence agencies, the Congressional Budget Office and government scientists; alleged without evidence that his predecessor wiretapped him; and repeatedly lied about his electoral victory.
And rather than support a full and independent inquiry into whether anyone in his campaign might have conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, Trump has done everything he can to subvert it.
That means we can expect more of the same:
Trump originally embraced Bannon because Bannon gave Trump exactly what Trump has sought for decades: controversy, screaming headlines and above all, the appearance of being an irreverent outsider who rejects politics as usual and rattles Washington to the core.
So it’s doubtful that either Bannon or Kushner will emerge the winner. They’ll both continue to advance their own views and agendas in Trump’s chaotic White House.
Which means we’re likely to be left with – and Trump is already on the way to adopting – the worst of both worlds: Bannon’s brand of anti-establishment populism that seeks to undermine the core democratic institutions of government, and Kushner’s oligarchical Republicanism that empowers and enriches CEOs, Wall Street and billionaires.
Reich says that leaves the rest of us on the outside looking in:
Americans hate big money in politics, but have deep reverence for the institutions of government – the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, an independent judiciary, the office of the president (regardless of who inhabits it), freedom of the press, the right to vote and the truth.
Americans are rightfully incensed that the system is rigged against them. But they’re angry at the riggers – not at the system. Yet Kushner will protect the riggers, and Bannon is out to destroy the system. And Trump is quite happy to do both.
Politicians make promises. No one believes them. They can believe that one.