15 Feb 2017

Toby and Toby on President Bannon

10:54 am on 15 February 2017
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Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Who is President Bannon?

The President of the United States of America.

Sure about that?

Pretty sure. President Bannon, a scruffy, irascible and formidably intelligent figure, surprised many by sweeping to power and bringing his, let's say, unique vision to the White House.

And what is that vision?

A pufferfish prowling the swamp of the establishment, President Bannon has long been obsessed by military history and the art of war. He has fulminated about the risk to the "Judeo-Christian West" presented by Islam, China and others. He's forecast a fresh American conflict in the Middle East and declared that the US and China will go to war within the next decade over the South China Sea - "there's no doubt about that." He's also said: "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."

He sounds a lot like Walter out of The Big Lebowski.

He does. But that's the cuddliest end of the spectrum. President Bannon likes the idea of liberals perceiving him as terrifying. "Darkness is good," he said in November. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power."

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Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Is he the one that used to run Breitbart News?

That's the fellow. He took over the vehemently rightwing site when its eponymous founder died, and used it to push for a Trump presidency. While a lot of the material on Breitbart fuels a white nationalist sentiment, President Bannon says that's not him. "I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist," he said recently. "I'm an economic nationalist."

Good. And what else has he done?

The son of a telephone lineman, President Bannon has long regarded himself as a champion of "the working man". He also went to Harvard Business School and became a Goldman Sachs banker. He made a fortune by buying rights to Seinfeld re-runs, and worked for some time in Hollywood, where his unproduced screenplays include The Thing I Am, a Shakespearean hip-hop musical about the 1992 Los Angeles riots, and The Singularity: Resistance Is Futile, a sci-fi extravaganza traversing everything from Walt Disney to immortality and eugenics to Nazis.

OK but. Are you sure you've got the right president? What about the other guy?

Which guy is that?

This guy:

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Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Ah. That's Donald J Trump, the 45th president of the United States of America.

So you are a fake news!

Prefer to call it alternative facts. But yeah.

Bad.

Typical liberal media bias. "The media here is the opposition party." It is "too dumb and too lazy to actually do any work" and should "keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while."

Who said that?

President Bannon.

Bad.

So sorry, that should be Steven Bannon, chief White House strategist and mastermind of the Trump presidential campaign. As recently as 2016, however, he described the orange wonder as a "blunt instrument for us", adding, "I don't know whether he really gets it or not."

But he's one of many advisers. How great is his influence really?

His impact goes far beyond the strategic brief of a chief adviser: he was quickly granted, extraordinarily, a permanent seat on the National Security Council. Yesterday's astonishing resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn who had misled over his links to Russia, is likely only to consolidate the influence of Bannon. He was already credited with having driven the early, controversial executive orders including the botched visa ban. The only other Trump staffer who comes close to wielding the sway of the man who calls himself "Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors" and who Time dubs "The Great Manipulator" is chief-of-staff Reince Priebus.

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Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Great name. Who he?

The former Republican National Committee chair, Priebus is a relatively conventional party figure, and, officially at least, "equal partners" in White House leadership. The pair recently gave an interview to repudiate reports they are at each other's throats, in which they joked about giving each other back massages. At one point Bannon says, "I'm quite aggressive, and Reince is a calming influence on hey - bang bang bang, here's how we ought to think about doing that." Priebus, meanwhile, says the suggestion they don't get on "bothers us because it's not true, and we actually like and care about each other a lot". None of this seems likely to stop the President Bannon postcards.

Postcards?

Speculation about Bannon's power, and a swarm of "President Bannon" trolling appear to have prompted the actual president to grip his lofty oratorical podium, Twitter, and declaim, "I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some FAKE NEWS media, in order to marginalize, lies!"

OK. But what about the postcards?

As a form of "creative resistance", protesters have begun sending postcards to the White House addressed to President Bannon.

Liberal whiners. Childish. Sad.

Yes, childish and sad. Sad and childish. Sad children can get more information about how to take part here.

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