The Cleverness by Half of the Master Puppeteer in the White House

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n my daily column “The Caligula Presidency,” and elsewhere, I have attempted to delineate the background of Steve Bannon’s egregious conspiracy theories as well as his political convictions. Here, I’d like to further delineate the intellectual profile of the man.

There is no doubt that he likes to be perceived as a serious intellectual with a vast scholarly horizon who reads deep impenetrable books not accessible to regular, slightly stupid people. Somebody, in other words, who wants to dismantle (he calls it “deconstructing”) the Deep State or the established institutional bureaucratic order, a la Lenin; one who governs by chaos. But is this mere cleverness by half, a pure myth, and a dangerous one at that? Let’s see.

Since he is the master-mind, the man of ideas in the White House, to understand Trump’s insane and dangerous beliefs, we may need to understand Bannon’s first, then decide if what they are selling is rational and normal or highly toxic. For, to normalize Bannon is to normalize Trump; there is no two way around it. In other words, we need to decide whether or not we wish to buy what they are selling; in other words, make a deal. And what, pray, might that be?

For one thing, he wants to be seen not as a conspiracy theorist but as a bright ideologue eager for a Big Ideological Battle. What might that battle be? Nothing short than a global holy war against Islamic fascism, never mind if this entails resurrecting nationalism and fascism of old, which is not a Moslem invention but a Western product.

Having insinuated himself into tremendous political power, he is now realizing that he might be able to do something with it, not just write about it in a conspiracy theory blog. It’s dawning on him that some of his ideas on white supremacy and extreme fascistic nationalism might be brought into the realm of the possible. He imagines he is writing his own clever by half conspiracy book and that people in general are stupid enough to read it and be persuaded. His only obstacle as of now is the media which he perceived as “the enemy of the people” and part of the Deep State.

He supposedly has already outlined a three part movie wherein the Muslims invade America and establish the Islamic States of America based on Sharia law. All made possible by the enablers who constitute the Deep State, or the establishment, if you will, and which need to be eradicated by any means available. If it sounds deranged, so it is. That kind of scenario is actually physically impossible, given today’s geo-political facts. But since when did facts stop a Bannon or a Trump.

Another surprising find is that Bannon, like Paul Ryan, considers himself a good Catholic, a theologian of sorts who consorts with the likes of Cardinal Raymond Burke in the Vatican, a severe conservative in open opposition to Pope Francis. What would a Burke and a Bannon chat about in the Vatican? Well, for one thing that Western Civilization is in the midst of a perilous decline. What it desperately needs now is the Christian militant wing of the Catholic Church to call for a new crusade against the infidels. This view has nothing to do, by the way, with Ayn Rand’s brutal form of capitalism that creates wealth for the few and uses people as commodities. In that sense he differs from Ryan or even Trump’s political-economic ideology. His ideology is grounded in an idealistic, if racist, vision and world view and is therefore more fanatical and extreme, and therefore more dangerous.

It is important to keep in mind that this Christian civilization that Bannon and Burke have in mind is not based on traditional universal Christian principles based on the Fatherhood of God vis a vis all human beings, but it is racial, based on white supremacy and extreme nationalism often parading as populism and concern for people’s welfare. The populism makes it easier to present it as Christian but on closer examination it looks neither Christian nor peace oriented.

Consider the executive orders on travel bans from Muslim nations, which are understood to have been drafted by Bannon, the man who has zero experience in foreign policy but now sits on a permanent seat as a permanent member of the National Security Council. Trump signed the order without even bothering to read it carefully. Trump reads nothing and therefore what you are hearing in those executive orders is Bannon, the puppet master. One can hear Bannon’s voice and disruptive ideology in most of Trump’s campaign speeches.

Even the inauguration address was mostly written by Bannon with some help from Miller. Later Bannon praised the speech in an interview with the Washington Post saying that “I don’t think we’ve had a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.” And he said a mouthful. Jackson was a populist and a racist who passed the Indian Removal Act defying the Supreme Court ruling against it, relocating the Cherokees to reservations. A few days later a picture of Jackson appeared in the oval office. Remember the expression “American carnage” which the speech contained?

So Jackson is the president Bannon wants Trump to be. But the courts stopped them both. They served notice that they just can’t do what they wish with immigration and that the judicial branch has a pivotal voice in it. A rewrite was necessary; one that has taken Bannon a whole month. Even Trump got a bit impatient.

So Bannon has proven intellectually that while he can be clever, by half, he seems to be unable to be wise and that his world is not so visionary and large as he’d like us to believe. He is not a builder. He is a mere destroyer. Most of what he writes about is dark and negative with no real vision or plan visible. And what is his motive? The need to be right, which he shares with his puppet: the president of the US. The crucial question then is this: have we become their enablers?

In one of his addresses, at a prayer breakfast speech Bannon made the following disturbing statement: “It may not be pretty for a little while.” What was he referring to? He might have been thinking of what he announced a few months ago while explaining his conspiracy theories, that the US and China will eventually fight a war over islands in the South China Sea. This will happen relatively soon, over the next decade. As he put it: “there is no doubt about that.” He also announced a shooting war in the Middle East.

Some two thirds of America now believe those “prophecies” of sorts, and that is troubling indeed. Here again, will we, the public and the citizens who put those two con-men in the White House become his enablers? Will the media, at least, continue to be skeptical and investigate the truth no matter where it leads, or will it succumb to the intimidation of the true believers, or worse, begin to discuss their wrong-headed ideas as rational and plausible? That is to say, will genuine intellectuals and journalists continue to indulge and feed their delusions of grandeur? It all remains to be seen.  

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Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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