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Steve Bannon: A Retrospective and Analysis

Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon. Eötvös József Lecture. Wednesday, the 23rd of May, 2018. Polgári Magyarországért Alapítvány, XXI. Század Intézet, V4 Connects. Várkert Bazár, Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe.

In one of the first essays of note that I was able to get published, I wrote, in the aftermath of the firing of Steve Bannon from his duties as a chief advisor to the President of the United States, that perhaps his firing was actually just politically and practically useful for then-President Donald Trump, as well as for his recently-former advisor. I argued, at the time, that in the position Bannon found himself in, he was actually in a weaker, less capable position to influence the movement that he had helped to cultivate as Donald Trump first swept into power in 2016; being freed from the shackles of public service within a government would make him once again, potentially at least, a very dangerous and influential figure.

 

The first thing that struck me about Steve Bannon’s agenda after he escaped public service was the broad scope of his ambition; after his American success, he clearly felt empowered to not only continue to try to rework the United States, but many other countries across the world as well. Steve Bannon had supported Donald Trump when few, comparatively speaking, would touch him, and that support would pay off with the shock victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 United States Presidential Election. From the lead man at the far-right fringe outlet, Breitbart, to a position of intimacy in the creation and dictation of national policy as an advisor to the President, Bannon’s gamble had paid off. He quickly discovered the inhospitable nature of American government towards outsiders, however. Those who do not have the desire to play by the political rules, while also lacking the power to isolate and protect themselves from often harsh criticism, are not destined to stay in the District of Columbia for very long, in an official capacity at least. Steve Bannon’s firing was, therefore, always mutual, and always important for both he, and the President of the United States. 

   

While the President got to remove someone highly detested by both parties from his administration, Steve Bannon was released from this bondage of checks and balances, red tape, and endless committees. Freed back into a world in which he and his influence could wrestle public opinion into submission most effectively, Bannon could really, finally, get things done again.

 

That was my view in early September of 2017, just after Bannon had been “fired.” With four years having passed since that time and piece, I have spent more time than I care to admit keeping a watchful eye on what Steve Bannon, his cronies, and his movement have wanted to do, and what he has actually accomplished across this space. I personally believe that he is a wretched human, without question, and yet he is an ambitious one as well, and that ambition and self-confidence have almost willed his vision into, at least partial, existence at times. After Bannon left his role with the former-President, he began a sort of uber-nationalist tour of the world, which included work to try to get the nefarious Roy Moore elected as Senator of Alabama in the wake of Jeff Sessions decision to take the Attorney General job in that 45th administration, but that would be but a taste of what Bannon would be attempting to achieve over the next approximately 1,460 days or so.  

 

To properly tell this story, the entire story of Steve Bannon as best as I know it, or to at least explain it all in the most comprehensible way possible, it is necessary to start from just after my original piece was written, nearing the end of 2017. From there, it is possible to better see how the “American Spider,” as I sometimes call him in ode to the “Universal Spider,” Louis XI of France, has been attempting to weave his web around the world, where he succeeded, where he failed, and where he didn’t know he hadn’t failed until it became apparent that he had succeeded; this story takes place, not only in the United States, but across Europe, Asia, Japan, the subcontinent of India, and many places in between.

 

It is incomplete as well, even with the publication of this massive, divvied-up essay. That is because the story of Steve Bannon is simply not over yet, nor does this writer know all of the nuances of the life of a remarkably secretive, nefarious man over the course of the last four years or so. A great many things have occurred in that time, from success, to failure, a global pandemic, the individual political or social ebbs and flows that nations across the world naturally and perpetually go through, as well as peoples own perceptions of what they want, what they need, and what people like Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, and Steve Bannon wish to do for them if elected.

 

“….The American fascist would prefer not to use violence. His method is to poison the channels of public information. With a fascist the problem is never how best to present the truth to the public but how best to use the news to deceive the public into giving the fascist and his group more money or more power.…” – Former Vice President of the United States, Henry A. Wallace, New York Times, 9 April, 1944

 

Steve Bannon would go all over the world on this mission of his, and he would attempt to put so many different, sometimes simultaneous measures into action, that it would all be very impressive if nearly all of these innovations were not all terrible and/or harmful to people, nations, and the very planet we live on as well. His first order of business after he was dismissed from his position advising Donald Trump, apart from rejoining Breitbart News, would be to attempt to promote Republican candidates that parroted Donald Trump in their vitriolic perspectives and limited worldviews, and could replace some of those politicians whom did not particularly care for Steve Bannon and all that he stands for.

 

He would look to support fresh candidates, where he could find them at least, as well as turncoats who might have simply seen the Trump opportunity and jumped at it, and, like Trump, alleged political outsiders. Suffolk County New York representative Lee Zeldin (R) was clearly a turncoat, Republican opportunist, and was a rather easy candidate for Steve Bannon to back for the subsequent 2018 midterm election, as Zeldin is a consistent, proverbial slam dunk with his older, conservative Long Island constituents. But when he decided to back the firebrand, hyper-conservative Roy Moore in a Special Election in early December of 2017 for the vacant Alabama Senate seat, it was a case of hubris and political misjudgment; it seemed doomed from the start, even despite the fanaticism of Trump supporters in the deep south. Moore was a highly controversial and unpolished candidate that was not able to run from his past indiscretions as the Teflon Trump seemed, for so long, to be able to; Steve Bannon thought that he could work his magic and make Moore into a United States Senator despite all of this, instead of taking the political or social temperature of the nation. Had he done this, he would’ve foreseen the inevitable, and that pushing his luck here would be an unnecessary loss of momentum for his movement.

 

Roy Moore, who would win the Republican nomination, before only narrowly losing to Democrat Doug Jones in the state election on the 12th of December, 2017, despite all of the quite heinous allegations against him, was a deeply embarrassing failure for both Steve Bannon and Donald Trump. When compared to the younger people that, in time, as we shall see, would grow out of the very message that he and Donald Trump had been helping to spread so far, and with such wide and dangerous influence during the prior years, it can be seen as an illustration of their own lack of political naivety and inexperience. 

 

While the former Presidential advisor was attempting to create candidates to supplant sitting Republicans for the future, he had not taken into consideration the work that he had already previously put in towards this end; like the legendary Johnny Appleseed of the late-18th and early-19th century America, Bannon spread and planted his own seeds, those proverbial seeds of illiberal, reactionary neo-fascists and would-be-strongmen and women, by his work with both Breitbart and the 45th President. While he was, in late-2017, early-2018, seeking to find or gently mold new Trump allies for Congress, he had not yet realized that he simply needed to wait for his seeds to mature into saplings and, eventually full-grown trees. 

 

When this time would eventually come, which we will get to later in this essay, Bannon would have all the new, young, fresh, and insane new proteges that he might wish for. The success of the impact that Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, that campaign, his presidency, and the overall messages of that movement, had on the psyche of the American general public would, in time, create in the midst of American society, great swaths of Trumpian politicians coming out of the woodwork, instead of, like Roy Moore or Donald Trump themselves, out of 1968. 

 

But Steve Bannon couldn’t have necessarily foreseen or known any of that at the time. Having been let go by the White House, and, having been quoted in a book as saying true, yet likely, from his position at least, regrettable things about both the President as well as his family, he would find himself out of his fallback job at the aforementioned Breitbart only months later. And so, by the beginning of 2018, it would’ve been fair to say that Steve was not having a very good stretch after the triumphs of which he was a part of dating back several years. 

 

These setbacks would do little to deter the man, however, and he would find himself, perhaps only coincidentally, working in Europe, within individual nations, and within the greater European Union environment as well, to promote and encourage his brash brand of hyper-nationalism and extreme cultural isolationism. After this run of poor luck and form that followed him from the end of 2017 into 2018, Steve Bannon would basically sojourn around the continent, like the aforementioned “Appleseed,” a sort of European troubadour of Fascism, Illiberalism, and barbarism.

“No one can be truly powerful unless he has access to the command of major institutions, for it is over these institutional means of power that the truly powerful are, in the first instance, truly powerful….” – Charles Wright Mills

 

It is likely that Steve Bannon, no matter how much he might or might’ve disagreed with the late, great Professor, would’ve wholeheartedly agreed with this particular quote of his. Steve Bannon’s recent work has, for many years to this point, been dedicated to putting his peers, disciples, and acolytes into powerful, institutional positions, by manipulating and deceiving the electorate, so that they can wield, with him as a sort of ideological bard, disconnected from all, and so able to influence all, real, consequential power in whatever nation or state they might exist in.

 

The aim of all of these machinations, and indeed, the aim of this peculiar ideology, would be further exemplified by the European Parliamentary far-right organization “The Movement,” of which Steve Bannon is, was, and has been, a sort of founder of. This organizational tool of the far-right, technically created and registered in early 2017 in Brussels by future Steve Bannon ally, Mischael Modrikamen, would be left dormant while Bannon directed Donald Trump in a public, official capacity, and it would remain dormant until he had already played the role of nationalist pied piper around America for some time, and even bits of Europe too. When Mischael and Bannon met, and would later hold at least one further meeting with the nefarious Nigel Farage of UKIP, “The Movement” was officially living in the capacity of a vehicle for European far-right parties to grow and develop together. This extreme foresight and the grand scale of his ambitions demonstrates in itself, the remarkable groundwork laid in preparation for his ultimate endeavor: To fundamentally transform international relations. 

 

Therefore, to that end, Steve Bannon’s time between the start of 2018 and the beginning of the global, COVID-19 pandemic, was spent generally in appearances, communication, assorted conferences and meetings with far-right officials and their parties in and across much of Europe, as well as nations in Asia and South America. He spoke about, or on behalf of, many of the reactionary elements of each nation he visited, at events and in the media, as well as about Donald Trump and his brilliant American administration. This journey had its ups and its downs, with one really positive year and one mediocre year before the world was consumed by the, at this time, still unknown COVID-19. 

 

It included tours and visits to the United Kingdom, England in particular, and the aforementioned, notorious UKIP, as well as their governing Tory Party, previously led, at the time, by the second female Prime Minister in English history, Theresa May, and presently-headed by the despicable Boris Johnson. Across 2018 and 2019, wherever illiberalism and nationalism could be found, Steve Bannon would basically be found as well; this includes time spent in France with Marie Le Pen and her National Rally, (formerly the National Front), Italy with Lega Nord, Brothers of Italy, and the Five Star Movement (M5S), Poland, with their own ruling Law and Justice Party, Hungary and Viktor Orban’s still-ruling Fidesz, the Dutch FvD and PVV, Sweden’s Swedish Democrats, Finland’s Finn’s Party, Austria’s FPÖ, Germany’s AfD, Belgium’s Vlaams Belang and Belgian People’s Party, Spain’s VOX, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party, India’s Bharatiya Janata led by Narendra Modi, and Israel’s recently-dethroned Likud, run, at the time, by the infamous Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

 

Steve Bannon attempted to utilize each party, if not in unison, then separately in each of their country’s towards a larger, common end, and found genuine success doing so at times. During my own research for this piece that spans the years, it once appeared very much, at another time anyway, as though there was real potential for a far-right, illiberal run of Presidents or parliaments across many parts of Europe and even the greater world. In 2018-19, to be sure, the momentum of these many national, xenophobic movements seemed nearly tangible, palpable, and in some ways, inevitable. 

 

While many of the nations and parties Steve Bannon would visit would welcome him, to varying degrees, Marie Le Pen, the leader of The National Rally and daughter of the Party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, was not so warm and hospitable about either his influences in France or Europe. While Bannon would make his usual fire and brimstone speeches, imploring the audience to “let them call you racist,” he was not embraced by the far-right intelligentsia of that nation, at least from the external perspective, in the same ways that he would be in other polities by other parties, like the Italian Lega Nord, still led by Matteo Salvini and Hungary’s Fidesz, led by the aforementioned Viktor Orban.

 

Steve would, in fact, be present in Italy and actually, physically present with Matteo Salvini himself during the general election victory that would earn him the deputy prime ministerial position on the 4th of March, 2018. Salvini’s Lega Nord headed the center-right coalition, and alongside then Five Star Movement leader, Luigi DeMaio, Forza Italia, and the Brothers of Italy, were able to garner enough votes collectively to shock Europe and form a government; they chose not to indulge the famous Silvio Berlusconi at this time, which would create less unity across the Italian far-right than including him might have. But, in any event, Matteo Salvini would be deputy Prime Minister in the new government, with jurist Giuseppe Conte of the M5S being appointed as Italy’s new Premier. Bannon’s loyalty to Salvini and Lega Nord would be rewarded later during his time as Deputy Prime Minister of Italy, while the victory had even broader implications down the line. 

    

It surely emboldened Steve Bannon for future attempted conquests around Europe; a prospective global nationalist institution, like the School of the America’s for European neo-fascists, was later planned for the nation of Italy by Bannon himself after the previous success of Salvini and his coalition. With Italy as compromised as circumstances could provide, and with all of 2018 to spend how he would like, Bannon then turned his eyes east to the Kingdom of St. Stephen, Hungary, and its upcoming parliamentary elections less than a month away.

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.” – Fourth President of the United States, James Madison

 

Viktor Orbán’s affection for Steve Bannon has, over the years, vacillated between generally warm, and outright chummy; Bannon’s arrival soon after his Italian accomplishments would appear the cherry on the proverbial cake for the incumbent’s victory in April of 2018. Not only did Fidesz prove victorious once more, but the second most votes went to their, at the time,  more extreme domestic counterparts, Jobbik. With Steve Bannon’s close ties to Hungarian reactionary Sebastian Gorka, few things could be as predictable as the success of Orbán with greater external support; Bannon was awarded another layup, another notch on his belt of illiberalism, but could that luck continue?

    

As Steve Bannon courted more far-right parties and administrations across the globe at this time, he would find greater success still. Other nations could be flipped as well, not only across Europe, but in places with less developed political history than Europe has as well, surely. While parties across Europe like Lega Nord, Fidesz, and others were offering him praise and respect, few were truly enthused to join a sort of European “Legion of Doom” within and without the European Parliament, with an American as the “Lex Luthor” of the whole thing, offering advice on the affairs of other nations. The irony of Bannon’s plans for international unity amongst political parties that did not care for international unity for their own nations consistently shines through during these historical moments, I assure you.

 

By the end of July, near the beginning of August, only months after his ally’s victories in Italy and Hungary, and just weeks before he would travel down to Brazil to announce his support for the ever-controversial, yet lesser known at the time, Jair Bolsonaro, Steve Bannon would find himself back in Washington DC, at one of his many residences. He was with names like Kellyann Conway, Corey Lewandowski, as well as three less familiar names. The first two were former Trump campaign officials, and at least one future Trump administration official, Jason Osbourne and Mike Rubino, who sometimes work with, and lobby for the autonomous Serbian Republic of Bosnia & Herzegovina; the third was the Republic’s Prime Minister, Željka Cvijanovic

    

They were all discussing the future of the Republic, the coming elections for it, the United States under Donald Trump, and Bannon’s own, aforementioned European Movement. That such a powerful man was sitting at Steve Bannon’s house for a meeting presumably concerning the United States and the Republic of Serbia’s governments is both nefarious and extraordinary; it is a proper illustration of the power that one man can have outside of government. Coordinating two administrations from the shadows, while having no official affiliation with either of them, with Steve Bannon as the central lubricant of the dealings, is consistent with his ambition, vision, and functionality; he sought then, and continues to seek today, to help coordinate his allies across the world for as long as they remain in power or have the prospects of future power within their sights. 

    

Steve Bannon’s effect on the Trump administration was, indeed, proven to be more radical and powerful from without than from within; a feat that, while I predicted, is truly extraordinary to witness. Few men can be seen to have made such an impact on so many political movements around the world, especially while the individual in question is still alive. Bannon would climb higher still on this string of successes in the coming months before 2019, and yet, as the famous poem reads, nothing gold can stay

    

Steve Bannon would also back far-right Brazilian presidential candidate, Jair Bolsorano, in mid to late August as well, in preparation for that country’s October elections, before quickly hurrying back to Europe for two more pressing matters: the September elections in Sweden, and one of the rewards from Matteo Salvini that Bannon had long been waiting for: The induction of Salvini and his Lega Nord into “The Movement.” With the latter being a very positive moment for the greater, European and international far-right movement when it occurred, there was some hope from that world, should the Swedish and Brazilian elections play out well, alongside the United States Midterm, 2018 Elections, that the international impact of their activities going into 2019 could be truly immense, paradigm-shattering, as well as long-lasting.

    

With the Swedish Democrats placing in third in their election on the 9th of September, Steve Bannon was continuing to make his progress, but this time, in a traditionally progressive part of the world. He could now, in fact, point to nearly every corner of the earth as having been influenced by his silver tongue and predatorial ambitions. Jair Bolsorano’s October victory on the 7th and 28th of that month, ensured that another illiberal, neo-fascist would hold sway over millions of people, extensive national resources, as well as the future of an entire nation, and bolstered the feeling further, both in America, as well as around the world, that across the globe, isolation, xenophobia, and selfishness was all becoming more acceptable and, in fact, accepted by the people; if the United States by-election went that way as well, with a further, expanded mandate for Donald Trump and his Republican Party, the future threat to both American Democracy, as well as liberal, free societies, would be even greater, and more pronounced over the remaining two years that remained in Donald Trump’s first term in office; would anyone, at that point, even be able to dethrone him in 2020?

To be sure, real and genuine fear was, at this point, now permeating out of nations across the world as it had not for nearly 100 years. Yet when Americans voted on the 6th of November, 2018, they did not give Donald Trump or his party a greater mandate at all, but displayed and demonstrated a pushback against the administration and its congressional lackeys that many did not expect, even with the traditional midterm swings considered, by awarding the House of Representatives to Democrats, while the Senate narrowed but remained in Republican control. It was a massive moment, even if few saw it for as gigantic a moment as it was; with 2019 just around the bend, it was, truly, the beginning of the end of Donald Trump, yet he couldn’t have known this at the time, any more than Bannon could have known that the momentum that he had been building himself was set to begin crashing down as well.

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