Why Trump is Not Bannon's Puppet by Joshua Turner
A popular narrative among those reporting on the Trump White House is that the President is really only a puppet; of Russia, of white nationalism, or of his chief strategist Steve Bannon. This seems very unlikely; Mr. Trump’s ego would likely never allow him to be willingly manipulated and he understands personal relationships enough to realize when this is taking place.
Something even more dangerous has perhaps taken place. Dangerous, at least, if one believes that government can be a force for good and has a valuable and vital role to play in society.
President Trump is many things, but ideological is not one of them. He is a transactional person, and it is difficult to know what he might think or say about any particular topic; however, over the last decade one can see his politics start to move in a more nationalistic direction, both economically and culturally.
Instead of being manipulated, it is more likely that he has simply adopted the political philosophy of Mr. Bannon. Thus it is more informative to put Mr. Bannon and his ideas under the microscope to try and get a better idea of what the next few years may be like.
In many ways Mr. Bannon represents the polar opposite of progressive politics, embodying the old Reagan mantra that "Government is not the solution to your problems, government is the problem.”
In one of his few recent public appearances at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), Mr. Bannon laid out his ideal agenda; removing America from the world, increasing an emphasis on American sovereignty, and the absolute destruction of the state as we know it .
The only areas of strain with more moderate Republicans is America’s role in the world. The party has long been at odds with itself, with people like Mr. Bannon, former congressman Ron Paul, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions advocating for less free trade, less military intervention/nation building, and less emphasis on treaty obligations, like those to NATO. On the opposite side of this debate are people like Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator John McCain, and conservative intellectual George Will.
Thus, Mr. Bannon does not represent a new conservative ideology, but rather the most powerful manifestation of a long established one. And it is the dismantling of the administrative state that should worry Democrats and progressives the most out of Mr. Bannon’s dream agenda, as Republicans of all stripes are very likely to be supportive.
Among those on the left, there are largely two strains of thought; a libertarian/anarchistic one and a statist/hierarchical one (of which I am firmly in the latter). So while those in the former might find something to like about Mr. Bannon’s pronouncement of being a Leninist and wanting to see the destruction of the state , those in the latter should be alarmed.
It would seem then that the selection of individuals for cabinet posts that they were unqualified to hold, and often outrightly hostile to, was based on Mr. Bannon’s design. What better way to bring the government crashing down than to appoint people to lead organizations they often wanted to see abolished.
This is also reflected in the President’s budget draft, which shows large cuts to domestic discretionary spending, while increasing military spending by $54 billion and making no cuts to entitlement programs. Departments like Education, Environmental Protection, even State will see their budgets cut so much that it will impact their ability to function and achieve stated goals.
Democrats are largely powerless to stop these changes, though it is possible that Congressional Republicans my be uneasy enough with Mr. Trump’s increased spending while not cutting entitlements that they may voice opposition.
Short of that, Democrats only option will be to play this fight out in the court of public opinion and hope to sway enough of the population that Mr. Trump will think twice about taking a hit in popularity to put in place Steve Bannon’s agenda. While he may not be a puppet, President Trump loves to be loved and public opinion could change his direction.
Joshua Turner is the creator and editor of The Hitch