Is Steve Bannon crazy like a fox?

To James Kirchick, a liberal who intensely dislikes Trump, the answer to the title question is “Yes!”. Kirchick’s new piece in the Spectator, “The ominous political genius of Steve Bannon,” shows a man who, as a big force in Trump’s political campaign and later as Chief White House Strategist, explicitly used the Left’s identity politics against them, making this famous statement in an interview with Steve Kuttner in The American Prospect

‘”The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em’. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”

Well, Trump didn’t crush the Democrats with votes, though he did psychologically, but he did better than he had any right to, and better than any of us suspected (I lost $500 betting against Trump).

Kirchick thinks that, before he left the White House, Bannon threw in his lot with three issues that enranged Leftists but played well with everyone else:

Throughout his short, eight-month tenure at the White House, Bannon – who has been described as a ‘Leninist’ – committed himself to effectuating this dialectic. His influence can be seen in three policy battles he helped instigate, all aimed at forcing Trump’s political adversaries and the media (dubbed ‘the opposition party’ by Bannon) onto political terrain where the right traditionally has a home field advantage: the so-called ‘Muslim travel ban’, the hastily-announced prohibition on transgender military service, and the just-erupted fight over statues and historical memory. In each case, Bannon nudged Democrats and liberals into adopting positions that, while fashionable with their activist base and media elite, are either unpopular or considered irrelevant to a wide majority of the American people. And by repeatedly taking his bait, the American left is allowing Bannon to define them.

With respect to the travel ban, polls are said to show that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of it (60% pro, 28% against), and the liberal outrage following the ban just heartened the Right. While most Americans support the presence of transgender people in the military, they don’t see this as a crucial issue. And as for the Confederate monuments, Kirchick says the issue also outraged the Left despite most Americans not supporting their removal:

As with the travel and transgender bans, the response from the ‘resistance’ was Pavlovian. Over the past two weeks, mobs have taken down Confederate statues, graffiti was sprayed on the Lincoln Memorial, a Lincoln bust was defaced in Chicago, a Democratic CNN analyst demanded that monuments to Washington and Jefferson be demolished (which would mean the destruction of two of Washington, D.C.’s most iconic attractions, if not the renaming of the national capital itself), and Democratic congressional leaders wrote bills mandating the removal of Confederate statues from the Capitol building. All this occurs against the backdrop of a poll reporting 62 percent of Americans want Confederate statues to remain in place, a finding that includes 44 percent of Democrats and, most surprisingly, a plurality of African-Americans.

Kirchick’s conclusion is that the Left’s increasing divisiveness and identity politics is making it look more radical, playing into the hands of middle Americans, and that the Democratic Party is ” increasingly becoming hostage to its activist, progressive, identity politics-driven base, which obsesses over issues not relevant to the vast majority of the American people but that play well on Twitter and MSNBC.” Like me, Kirchick was against Bannon’s policies, but there’s a lot of sense in his conclusions:

For what it’s worth, I disagree with Bannon and Trump on the travel ban, the transgender ban, and the removal of Confederate icons. But I’m not the sort of person Democrats need to win future elections. Bannon is a master storyteller and creator of narratives, skills he honed making political documentaries and sharpened in more lurid form at Breitbart. The grand narrative he’s spent the last several years shaping is one in which the Democrats gradually become the caricature villain of a Breitbart comments section: the party of Colin Kaepernick and Melissa Click and the screaming girl at Yale and the people defacing the Lincoln Memorial and the pundits who equivocate over condemning Antifa and the transgender YouTube activist who insists that ‘some women have penises’. Democrats shouldn’t fall into his trap.

After all, who wants America to wind up looking like the campus of Evergreen State University? And that’s what happens when Leftists go crazy over “moral purity” issues. Somehow we have to dial down this craziness without losing our principles, and stop casting our opponents (and even fellow Leftists) as morally tainted. Perhaps Bannon’s departure will short-circuit a strategy that worked better than any of us expected, despite Trump’s low approval rating, but Trump has other advisors, and in many ways he’s like Bannon.

To see one strategy for the Left (suggested by an anti-Trump conservative), read Bret Stephens’s new piece in the New York Times, “The dying art of disagreement.”

h/t: Grania


  1. GBJames
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    There’s little danger of America winding up like the campus of Evergreen State University. The far greater hazard is that it ends up looking like a Republican theocracy, enabled (in part) by campus nonsense that makes such great fodder for folk like Bannon.

    • Warren Bailey
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      That’s not the point. Democrats aren’t successfully selling the dangers of a Republican theocracy but they are selling an apparent reprise of Mao’s Cultural Revolution by failing to even acknowledge the disturbing antics of Antifa and its enablers

      • GBJames
        Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

        You’re disagreeing with me how exactly?

    • biz
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

      “There’s little danger of America winding up like the campus of Evergreen State University.”

      I hope you are right but I fear you are wrong. The Left, especially the intersectional/far/postmodernist Left, holds a lot of institutional power in America, including in academia, corporate PR and HR departments, and increasingly owns the Democratic party.

  2. biz
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I agree with everything about identity politics being a strategic loser.

    But it is important to remember that it is also a moral and ethical abomination. Identity politics is profoundly dehumanizing because it subsumes people’s individual identities and encourages them to see themselves merely as representatives of competing demographic groups. It makes neighbors and co-workers and even family members into enemies. It is the exact opposite of the MLK vision that people would be judged by the content of their character.

  3. Mike Anderson
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    The media, James Comey, and Russian support had far more influence on the election than Bannon’s crackpot strategizing. It was “the emails”. Almost every Trump supporter (pre-election) I know thought the emails were somehow significant, and that wasn’t Bannon’s doing.

    (The best post-election analyses I’ve read, IMO, are at 538 also provided excellent pre-election analysis too.)

    • Rita
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      That was then, this is now.

      • Mike Anderson
        Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

        Correct. It is now now.

    • Dan
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      I used to give much weight for 538’s analysis, especially their accurate predictions of past elections. That is, until they joined the bandwagon and pick Hillary to win at 71% probability and predicting most battleground states to go Blue.

      After-the-fact analysis is good, but their forecasts shows that their method is just reading tea leaves, but with math.

  4. dd
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    Kirchick is right. And here are 2 examples, drawn from the New York Times:

    1. From an article about the Milo/Berkeley soap opera…(essentially excusing Antifa):
    “But we should keep in mind, as the historian Mark Bray points out, that antifa groups form specifically to counter white supremacist and Nazi violence, having done so from the days of Hitler and Mussolini. Antifa groups are a symptom, not a cause, of the threat of white supremacist violence.”

    2. And this one, far more serious on violent crime, but which the NYTimes subordinates in its importance by placing it in the
    “more news” section, far below prominence given to an article telling just what a great of a shape the studs of Clockwork Orange play have to be:

    Is a possible reason the NYTimes subordinates the article because of paragraphs like this:

    Among the cities that have experienced recent upticks in murder coupled with questionable police shootings that prompted rioting or other civil disturbances are Chicago, Baltimore, Charlotte, St. Louis and Milwaukee. But other cities where there have been significant increases in homicides in recent years, including Las Vegas and Memphis, have been largely free of public anger in response to fatal police shootings.

  5. Randy schenck
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    I have to define this as the petty politics. If the democrats are all so easily bated by Bannon or whoever then, does that make him smart? Not so much as making the other side stupid maybe. The important issues that demos should be concentrating on are health care, overhaul of a terrible tax system and education. Getting all wrapped up with things like statues or who is on a knee during the anthem – that is petty politics. That is a Trump specialty. It is also what the news does as well. I know it’s difficult to turn on the TV but look at CNN or MSNBC or gag, even FOX and they repeat the same shit all day and all night. Just like the internet. They just beat every issue to death, no matter how small. I would not be giving Bannon all the credit for this.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I find it interesting that Kaepernick has been doing the knee thing since Obama was in office. Every week maybe 2-3 people a team took part and except for when he first started, it’s largely been ignored. Now Trump gets involved and it’s a big thing. It sure takes the attention off the dangerous direction (for Trump) the Mueller investigation is taking.

      • Randy schenck
        Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        I think this is correct. He always does some nonsense to divert from his problems.

      • Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

        Meanwhile, the schlubs in the stands guzzle beer, cackle about the woman the rows down, and Instagram for the masses. Whatever is wrong with people?

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

          True dat.

        • Paul S
          Posted September 25, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

          Pardon me, but I’m a Bear’s season ticket holder and your description of sports fans is stereotypical. Although you may find some that fit your description it is no more representative than Ann Gauger is representative of a PhD.

          • Posted September 25, 2017 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

            Blah, blah, blah. You offense is noted snowflake. 😉

    • somer
      Posted September 26, 2017 at 1:37 am | Permalink

      Yes. Although Antifa and intersectional politics makes bread and meat for Breitbart, I don’t think Bannon has to try very hard at all to turn this to his advantage.

      Latest – actually on Beverly Hills Antifa twitter site in a protest video: Black Antifas are castigating White Antifas for not going in and punching “nazis”. Topping it off with screams of “You’re still white. You’re still responsible – this is Your Fault. You’re inherently racist. Its in your blood. Its in your DNA”.

  6. Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “Democrats shouldn’t fall into his trap.”

    Too late, they already have. It’s been far to long coming but it is time for the Democratic party to die. With luck, that day will come soon and I will join many others in dancing on its grave, if for no other reason than the years of bitter disappointment.

  7. Historian
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

    James Kirchick is NOT a liberal according to Wikipedia, which describes him as a neoconservative that supported Hillary Clinton.

    In the article cited, Kirchick states the following: “Trump became the vessel through which Bannon could implement an insight which has proven rather reliable in America (and elsewhere, too): forced to choose between a chauvinist, xenophobic, majoritarian, nationalist right and a smug, post-nationalist, identity politics-obsessed left, most will choose the former.” This statement is objectively false since Clinton won the popular vote by three million votes. Moreover, it is debatable whether the issues in the 2016 election were viewed by the electorate in the stark terms the Kirchick offers.

    • Posted September 26, 2017 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      Of course, only in American terms is Clinton (either) a liberal.

  8. Heather Hastie
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Steve Bannon is an example of an intelligent man screwed up by belief. He constantly contradicts himself and his “logic” isn’t supported by reality.

    He’s right about some things though and one is how the Dems have disillusioned the centre. However, that is not making them support the Trump agenda, it’s making them think he’s the least bad of two bad choices.

    I could go on, but the homily in my tweets post today is going to be about Steve Bannon, and no one will have any reason to read it if I put it all here!

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    … the Democratic Party is ”increasingly becoming hostage to its activist, progressive, identity politics-driven base …”

    Doesn’t take a fox to know you can get a lot of political mileage by pushing kulturkampf issues that appeal to the worse devils (or whatever the opposite of “better angels” is) of the American nature — by appealing to Americans’ small-mindedness and bigotry. Right-wing American populists have been hard at it for well over a century now.

    What you and Kirchick say above about the Democratic Party base is undoubtedly true. But it’s the Republican Party base that’s gone flat-out bat-shit crazy. And just how bat-shit crazy we’re likely to see tomorrow, when (if the polls are correct) the Alabama GOP nominates as its US senate candidate Roy Moore, the Ten-Commandment-humping former Alabama supreme court chief justice twice removed from office for refusing to follow the rule of law.

    The Grand Old Party has been welcoming the crazies into ranks for decades now, and those nasty chickens are coming home to roost, with a gang that’s ready to out-crazy Trump. Sure, it can be fun and invigorating to invite some outlaw bikers to a house party — until they start busting up the furniture and attacking the other party-goers with broken beer bottles. The Republican Party’s gonna feel that pain.

  10. poltiser
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:16 pm | Permalink

    SB, like many others from this group, believes that he is a modern day crusader. He would not stop until his mission is fulfilled.
    The more people underestimate him the farther he goes.
    Unfortunately on the oposite side, there is chaos, confusion and still strong hope that “End of History” goes on…
    Home schooling, poverty versus no tax for corporation, no government to interfere or help…
    No mission.
    SB has vision, support, know how and determination.

    It is a very time for new idea of united humanity, attractive and popular but honest and sustainable, otherwise – SB wins.

  11. Historian
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

    Let’s not fall into the trap that the right-wing tries to perpetuate with the notion that there is a great national revulsion against Democrats because of its supposed adherence to identity politics. Nate Silver’s fivethirtyeight site indicates that the latest polls show that 46.9% of the people support the Democratic Party for Congress while 39.6% support Republicans. Of course, this doesn’t mean that the Democrats will win back the House of Representatives next year due to such things as gerrymandering, voter turnout and relative incompetence of Democrats as politicians. Too many people at this site seem to think that America is synonymous with white America. It is not and becoming less so with every passing day – a fact that perhaps a majority of white American finds unbearable.

    • pablo
      Posted September 26, 2017 at 1:03 am | Permalink

      The same 538 that predicted a Hillary landslide? Okay.

      • Historian
        Posted September 26, 2017 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        Wrong. That site didn’t predict a Hillary landslide.

    • BJ
      Posted September 26, 2017 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

      There are only two real choices of party. Just because people choose one does not in any way mean that they generally support it ideologically and/or intellectually. I’m sure there are many on this site (including me) who very reluctantly voted for Hillary last election, not because we wanted to, but because we didn’t want to vote for Trump even more.

  12. allison
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Trump and Trumpism are entirely driven by identity politics, also.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted September 25, 2017 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      This nation was founded upon, and has always operated under, the politics of white identity. It’s merely that we’ve been as insensible to it as fish are to water.

      Trumpism is a reaction to the dawning realization that that is not necessarily the ineluctable, god-ordained nature of things.

  13. Dave137
    Posted September 25, 2017 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Conservatives whine about free speech and then demonize NFL players for speaking freely, for instance.

  14. Helen Pluckrose
    Posted September 26, 2017 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Yes! I’m English but very familiar with the US culture wars and we have the same problem here with the Left losing touch with the issues of central importance to the working class majority and focusing on identity issues. As a life-long lefty, I want the left to regain credibility and be electable again by reasonable people. Yet, I am accused of giving ammo to the far-right by criticising those elements of the left which make this less likely. It is they who are giving ammo to the far-right.

    I recently wrote this – -with James Lindsay in which we argue that the far-left and far-right are feeding each other and producing a kind of ‘existential polarisation’ in which people perceive the extremes of one side to represent that side and put all their energies into opposing that side but this includes rationalising, minimising & internalising the extreme irrationalisms and illiberalisms on their own side. This is essentially the effect Bannon was talking about and the only way to stop it & win back support for the left is to acknowledge our own problems and assure the floating voters that we are on it.

    • Richard
      Posted September 26, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

      A very interesting essay. Thank you for posting the link.

  15. Curtis
    Posted September 26, 2017 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Trump and Bannon are political geniuses. They gave the progressives every opportunity to show condescension and hypocrisy. Calling Trump supported deplorable. Calling all whites racist. Telling women that they must vote for Clinton because she’s a women but calling men who voted against Clinton misogynists.

    For a perfect example, Paindumonde (echoed by Heather Hastie) says “Meanwhile, the schlubs in the stands guzzle beer, cackle about the woman the rows down, and Instagram for the masses.” This type of stereotyping pisses people off and Paul S replied “Pardon me, but I’m a Bear’s season ticket holder and your description of sports fans is stereotypical. Although you may find some that fit your description it is no more representative than Ann Gauger is representative of a PhD.”

    It is this type of condescension that drove the non-elites to Trump. Calling someone (or their friends and family) schlubs or deplorable plays well to elitists but pushes everyone else to the other side. Bill Clinton grew up with deplorables and schlubs and could “feel their pain.” Hillary and progressives ooze contempt.

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