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Why Steve Bannon Is So Dangerous
Plus: Meltdown in Wisconsin
For his court hearing Wednesday, Steve Bannon chose a slightly less disheveled look: black jacket, untucked black shirt over a black t-shirt, which was, one supposes, a concession to the gravity of the proceedings, which he has otherwise treated with Bannonesque disdain.
Despite the upgrade of his habiliments for the occasion, it did not go well.
A federal judge on Wednesday declined to dismiss contempt of Congress charges against former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon.
U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols issued his ruling immediately after hearing courtroom argument from federal prosecutors and Bannon’s lawyers. The move clears the way for Bannon’s trial to start July 18…
Bannon, of course, remains unfazed, because he actually relishes the potential legal martyrdom. And it’s all part of the show. You might recall that our colleague, Tim Miller, spent Insurrection week listening to Bannon’s show and captured the essential paradox: a clown with a flamethrower still has a flamethrower:
There’s plenty to criticize about Steve Bannon. He’s sloppy—looking like a regular at the local Pizza Hut who wears the same stained multilayered black shirts every day—narcissistic in the extreme, and a habitual liar. He’s a necrotizing confidence man who allegedly robbed the very people he claims to fight for in order to enrich himself. He was partially responsible for engineering a riot that resulted in the death and imprisonment of some of his loyal listeners. Deadly sins, he has a few. Greed, gluttony, vainglory, wrath. Check. Check. Check. Check.
But, Miller writes, he has become the flaming id of the right. And it’s important to pay attention to the message and images that Bannon pushes out to the faithful for four hours every day:
Put it all together and what you have is a show that offers Trump supporters a fascistic MAGA cosplay where they are the main characters, and the aggrieved victims, and also the all-powerful heroes. In this story reality is inverted to suit their purpose. Anyone who punctures the narrative must have an ulterior motive and be in league with the powerful (((shadowy))) forces who are conspiring to take them down.
On today’s Bulwark podcast, I talk with the Atlantic ‘s Jennifer Senior about her remarkable new profile of Bannon: “American Rasputin”. She opens her piece by describing the extensive text exchanges she had with him. “You can discern much of Bannon’s mad character and contradictions in these exchanges,” she writes.
The chaos and the focus, the pugnacity and the enthusiasm, the transparency and the industrial-grade bullshit. Also, the mania: logomania, arithmomania, monomania (he’d likely cop to all of these, especially that last one—he’s the first to say that one of the features of his show is “wash rinse repeat”). Garden-variety hypermania (with a generous assist from espressos). And last of all, perhaps above all else, straight-up megalomania, which even those who profess affection for the man can see, though it appears to be a problem only for those who believe, as I do, that he’s attempting to insert a lit bomb into the mouth of American democracy.
Damn, you can see why Senior won a Pulitzer Prize this year.
She quotes critics who call Bannon “a con man, a cancer, Hitler.” She dives into his byzantine and often convoluted conspiracy theories and truth-challenged narratives. “He is Schrödinger’s bullshitter,” she writes, “at once of his nonsense and above it.”
And she writes about the temptation to write him off as a burnt-out has-been demagogue.
Is this guy Lenin in Zurich, patiently biding his time? Or is he some Estonian anti-Communist émigré from a Le Carré novel, waiting to die in a lonely bedsit in London?
Matthew C. MacWilliams, a public-opinion strategist and the author of On Fascism, is guessing the latter. “Trump threw him out. The Europeans kicked him to the curb. His empire crashed and he ended up with a podcast,” he says. “He’s a parasite. A talker. Rasputin with a digital show. Rasputin was knifed.”
But she also makes it clear why it’s dangerous to ignore Bannon.
[Bannon] is more than just a broadcaster. He’s a televangelist, an Iago, a canny political operative with activist machinations. With almost every episode, he hopes to transform his audience into an army of the righteous—one that will undo the “illegitimate Biden regime” and replace the current GOP infrastructure, still riddled with institutionalist RINO pushovers, with adamantine Trumpists who believe that 2020 rightfully belonged to them.
He may simply be the id of right-wing politics, but Senior observes, “there’s now loads of room for those id creatures in American politics and culture, and they can accumulate considerable influence.”
He goads his followers into action with a combination of praise, flattery, and drill-sergeant phrases he repeats like a catechism: Put your shoulder to the wheel! Be a force multiplier! And especially: Use your agency!
It’s already happening:
Last September, ProPublica contacted GOP leaders in 65 key counties around the country and discovered that 41 of them “reported an unusual increase in sign-ups since Bannon’s campaign began,” with at least 8,500 new precinct officers joining their ranks. And Bannon is now on Axios’s list of the Republicans’ new kingmakers, compiled this year based on interviews with top GOP consultants and operatives around the country, in part because his show is “a goldmine” for primary candidates who are fundraising online.
Beyond the grift, the key to understanding Bannon — and his influence on the MAGA right— is recognizing that he’s a revolutionary, who knows he doesn’t need to persuade, and who doesn’t need a majority. Bannon knows that he just needs a hard-core vanguard willing to do whatever it takes.
And his goal is to burn it all down.
This also explains the fundamental asymmetry of our politics. On today’s podcast we discuss whether Bannon is playing checkers while his opponents are playing chess.
But I suggested a different image: Bannon is bringing an axe to a chess game — and his opponents haven’t figured that out yet, even though he’s told us repeatedly who and what he is.
Last year, historian Ron Radosh recounted this story in the Bulwark:
Bannon spelled out his plans and strategy to me way back on November 12, 2013, at a book party held at his D.C. townhouse (the so-called “Breitbart Embassy”).
“I’m a Leninist,” he told me as he introduced himself. He then went on, as I recounted in a 2016 Daily Beast article, to inform me that “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.”…
I ended my article with a prediction that, sadly, has proven correct. I wrote that should Bannon succeed, there would be “a hostile takeover of the GOP.”
Beyond that, he has no coherent agenda for change, because he can’t look past the horizon of destruction.
“There is no plan,” Senior writes. “The plan is to leave a smoldering crater where our institutions once were.”
My conversation with Senior will be posted later today. I think it will be worth your time.
Judge Luttig Testifies
Via Politico’s Playbook: In today’s January 6 Committee hearing Judge Michael Luttig will appear “ as a fact witness because of his role in the leadup to Jan. 6, when Luttig told then-VP MIKE PENCE to ignore the advice of JOHN EASTMAN, a former Luttig clerk who hatched the scheme to persuade Pence to overturn the results of the 2020 election by rejecting electoral votes from states former President DONALD TRUMP lost.”
On when he realized the efforts to overturn the election in 2020 posed a grave threat
I believed initially that all of this was just a bunch of kooks. Sidney Powell, people like that; and Giuliani. I was concerned about it, because if you have those people around the President of the United States of America, and they are bent on overturning an election, it’s a consequential thing. But, I guess probably my subconscious belief and hope was that because these were the people behind it, it was destined to fail of necessity. It wasn’t until much later when I began to understand that there were seriously intelligent people involved in the effort, that I began to appreciate the real gravity of the situation.
On helping Vice President Pence to resist President Trump’s pressure not to certify the election results January 6
I was working with [Pence’s] staff, in particular Mark Short, through Richard Cullen. Never the vice president personally until after January 6th. But there was no question in my mind, but that the vice president had made his decision. I didn’t know or believe this at the time, but he was marshaling as much support nationally as he could for what he had decided he must do.
Meanwhile, in Wisconsin
The key word here is “meltdown.” An update on the guy handling the bogus investigation into Wisconsin’s 2020 election.
At Friday’s hearing, [former WI Supreme Court Justice Michael] Gableman threw a “tantrum,” as [Judge Frank] Remington described it.
Gableman refused to answer questions, instead accusing the judge of acting “as an advocate” for American Oversight. He then gestured toward the bailiff and “taunted” the court by saying: “I see you have a jail officer here. You want to put me in jail, Judge Remington? I’m not gonna be railroaded.”
With a “raised voice,” “accusatory tone,” and “twisted facial expression,” Gableman “pointed and shook his finger at the judge” while accusing him of engaging in a “fishing expedition.” (The ex-justice did not, it seems, see the irony in this accusation.)
It got worse.
During a short recess, Gableman told an attorney that this hearing was Remington’s “time to shine … what passes for success for him.” He ensured that a microphone picked up his comments. Then, in a mocking tone, he impersonated Remington asking a female attorney in the courtroom to come to his chambers—implying that she would engage in sexual activity with the judge. When Remington reminded Gableman that the microphone picked up every word, the ex-justice persisted in his tirade.
The judge in the case issued a scathing rebuke, and referred Gableman to Wisconsin’s Office of Lawyer Regulation for possible discipline.
“The circus Gableman created in the courtroom,” Remington wrote on Wednesday, was “an affront to the judicial process.” Gableman’s “demeaning conduct has discredited the profession,” “disrupted a court proceeding,” and violated both “his oath as an attorney” and “duty of professional responsibility.” Moreover, his “sophomoric innuendo” about the female attorney “is a sad reminder that in 2022, woman lawyers still have to do more than be excellent at their job.”
A tribute to my buddy, Pete, in the background….
How to Counter Russia’s Artillery Advantage in Ukraine
The United States must urgently improve the counter-battery capabilities of the howitzers already in Ukrainian hands.
If precision guided artillery shells have not been provided already, they should be airlifted immediately.
Training should be intensified.
American friends who have been reluctant to arm the Ukrainians should be engaged by senior Biden administration officials. They should be made aware of the stakes of the outcome of the war in Ukraine and vigorously encouraged to provide the necessary assistance.
Or we can watch the Ukrainians be bled into accepting a Russian settlement offer.
It’s Ann Coulter vs. Dinesh. And we are there for it.