Bannon Is Failing the Leadership Test

by Cinzia Croce

Ever since leaving the White House, Steve Bannon has done a masterful job crafting a public persona as the insurgent general leading the fight to rescue Trump’s agenda from the corrupt GOP establishment.  Complete with the crumpled Indiana Jones jacket and unshaven face, the self-described president’s wingman wasted no time declaring war on Mitch McConnell and calling for a populist takeover of the Republican Party. Bannon’s fiery rhetoric and pledge to hold accountable Republicans who betrayed their voters are music to the ears and hearts of many party activists who long ago realized that the likes of Ryan and McConnell pose the greater obstacle to their aspirations than the Democrats. If anyone still has any doubts about McConnell’s commitment to undermine the president, his handling of tax reform should remove them. The Senate GOP bill postpones the corporate tax cut – the very jet fuel Trump needs to get the economy roaring – until 2019. It is almost as if McConnell is hoping the GOP will lose control of Congress and clear the way for the Democrats to remove the president from office.

When it comes to taking on the GOP establishment, Bannon deserves encouragement and applause from anyone who wants the Trump administration to succeed. However, holding political enemies accountable is not enough to be an effective leader. It is very easy to rail against those we despise – in fact, it is quite enjoyable. The true test of leadership is holding political friends accountable when their actions are just as harmful as enemy attacks and on this score Bannon is failing — bigly! Continue reading

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Amnesty Don Never Wanted a Wall

by Cinzia Croce

For months I have been wondering why Donald Trump was not aggressively pursuing funding for his big, beautiful border wall. Even setting aside the question of whether Mexico will pay for it — Trump could have pushed for legislation taxing remittances to Mexico, or demand that a down payment on the wall be part of the continuing resolution funding the government last spring — Trump seemed quite happy to delay the appropriation for his signature issue until “a later date”. The same is true of DACA. Despite promising to end it on Day One of his presidency, the administration kept issuing new work permits for over seven months. It was also baffling that Trump filled the White House with individuals who do not agree with his campaign stance on illegal immigration, while those who did left the administration (except Stephen Miller). After the events of the last few days, I believe I finally have my answer: Trump was never serious about building the wall or having illegal immigrants leave the country. He only used his immigration stance to win the election, and ever since he reached the White House, he has been buying time while working to find a way to ditch his campaign commitments without losing his base.   Continue reading

On Tax Reform, Trump’s Chasing Another Dead-End

by Cinzia Croce

The Mooch warned us. After his departure from the White House, Anthony Scaramucci granted his first interview to George Stephanopoulos and declared that Trump needed  “to move away from that sort of Bannonbart nonsense”  and “…move more into the mainstream. He’s got to be more into where moderates are and the independents are.”

A week later, we got the first taste of what a more “mainstream” Trump will be like. In his Afghanistan speech, he announced that he was going to turn his back on his instincts and campaign promises and send more troops to Afghanistan to “seek an honorable and enduring outcome.” Yesterday, we got the second taste of the New Trump, when he delivered a speech calling for tax reform that could have easily been delivered by Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan. It was full of the old Reagan Republican buzzwords like “growth” and “opportunity,” and stale, crusty talking points like “Americans know better than Washington how to spend their own money.” Trump the rebel, the insurgent candidate that took Washington by storm, is slowly morphing into just another traditional Republican politician promising more tax cuts and wars. Continue reading

The Malaise of Liberalism

by Alex Knepper

See also: The Malaise of Conservatism

There are few things clearer in contemporary politics than the need for an alternative vision to homo economicus, in both its liberal and socialist manifestations — man with neither roots nor telos but content merely with animalized comfort — and the right’s proposed flight back into the inadequate and unbelievable claims of the ancestral. It is also clear that there is no faction in American politics which can obviously serve as a vehicle for this alternative.

The right, even while holding political power, seems to understand itself today as the losers of recent history, and is resorting to tactics meant primarily to agitate, disorient, and inflame the winners; they are absolutely blinded by resentment, and no meaningful attempt at governing can be made until it is past this phase and reconciles itself to where we have arrived. So the way forward right now must come from the liberals, exhausted as they are — and despite that they are perhaps the least-inclined to recognize the gravity of the crisis. Why is liberalism once again susceptible to morphing in the direction of ideas it thought it had eliminated — socialism and nationalism? Victory in war, hot or cold, however dazzling, was clearly not sufficient to forever suppress the power of these ideas. Both promise a variety of security — economic and identity-based — against the rapid flux of things under liberal-democratic techno-capitalism, and the pace and intensity of that change has only grown faster in recent years. And a ‘globalized’ world of mass-communications is not just economically disorienting — it is spiritually disorienting, for young and old alike, the former of whom have not known a world unlike this, and the latter of whom have and are aghast at its disintegration. The greater the depths of disorientation, the greater the potential heights of reactive fanaticism. As we have said: people like Donald Trump simply do not come to power when people are not hurting, and badly.

WindupWorker2

Liberals need to be able to answer the question: Why liberalism today? What kind of life does liberalism help to enable, and why is it desirable? There is no doubt that liberalism benefits certain small groups in large ways — the bourgeois professional class continues to thrive materially, and writers and artists will always have a special appreciation for the liberties of free speech, religion, and association, for instance. But if we believe Aristotle that good government necessitates a balance between the needs of the few and the needs of the many, liberals have to be able to provide some account of what a good life under liberalism looks like for the ordinary citizen. With ideals of religion, race, education, property, family, marriage, and sex all unusually unstable, we are in dire need of a coherent blueprint for what life under liberalism ought to look like in the 21st century. A requirement of this project would be to acknowledge and adequately address the challenges posed by Nietzsche and Marx — it need not ‘rebut’ them, but it must address them — and would itself be tantamount to a long-needed contemporary defense of liberal democracy — a defense of the idea that it is capable of providing decent and substantive lives for the many.

Of course, liberalism has been in need of such a defense for quite some time, and little has been forthcoming. Perhaps liberal democratic capitalism has lurched through the generations out of sheer inertia and material might, the beneficiaries of a historical head-start. That variants of the zombie ideologies of socialism and nationalism are coming back to torment us again suggests that the need for a recuperation and rehabilitation of liberalism has reached a fever pitch.

How Steve Bannon Walked Away a Winner

by Cinzia Croce

As the resident populist commentator, I actually welcome the departure of Steve Bannon from the White House, and am not at all surprised by it. Months ago, I came to the conclusion that Bannon would be more effective on the outside — where he doesn’t have to worry about keeping a low profile just to appease the president’s ego, or watch his back in the midst of all the palace intrigue. For the past year, Bannon has cleverly used his association with Trump to build his brand — through magazine covers, books, and documentary profiles like the one done by Frontline. He now enjoys international fame, and his publication Breitbart is set to become the premier voice in Republican politics, while old standbys National Review, the Weekly Standard and even Fox News will continue to fade, which is the price they pay for making the wrong bet. Reporters from all over the world will look to Breitbart for reactions to everything the Trump administration does going forward. Does Bannon approve or disapprove of the latest policy decision? Does Bannon believe the president is staying true to his promises? On top of this, his enemies no longer can scapegoat him for any failures of the Trump administration. Bannon personally could not be in a better strategic position than if he had carefully planned it.

No one should be surprised by Bannon’s departure. On several occasions, Trump has signaled his displeasure with Bannon receiving so much credit for his victory. During his last press conference, Trump (once again) pointed out that Bannon joined his campaign late, and only after he had defeated seventeen Republican primary opponents — many of whom were considered the best and the brightest the party had to offer. Of course, the president conveniently ignores that it was Bannon who built a large, receptive audience for Trump, given his stances on immigration, trade and foreign intervention. It was Breitbart that enthusiastically backed his candidacy when more mainstream conservative publications were publishing “Against Trump” symposiums and Fox News was trying desperately to convince their audience that Marco Rubio was the future of the Republican Party. Nevertheless, it was clear that the media portraying Bannon as The Brain and Trump as The Performer was simply too much for the president to bear. Trump is a proud man, and the thought that Bannon would also receive the credit for any future successes must have been intolerable. Continue reading

Does the Conservative Brand Need a Reset?

by Daniel Clements

Journalist Bill Kristol tweeted recently that conservatives should consider rebranding themselves as “liberals” to distance themselves from Trumpism, noting they’re for “liberal democracy, liberal world order, liberal economy, liberal education…”. The pro-Trump pundits immediately took this admittedly flippant remark as another indicator of the Establishment™️’s conspiracy to unseat the president. Of course, “conservatives” in the US would typically be described as “liberals” in Europe (and if the US had a more European-style ideological spectrum, the Republican Party would be a coalition of a liberals, Christian Democrats, and nationalists). Lacking a feudal past and being founded on (classical) liberal principles, it follows that to be conservative in the US is to be liberal, though the term now has a different meaning in common speech.

Burke

The negative reaction from Trump supporters is surprising, as they largely openly rejected conservatism, both as a label and ideology—asserting that limited government and the free-market are non-issues, especially in comparison to cultural and civic cohesion. I for one always found arguments over what is genuinely “conservative” to be pointless semantics: the ideas being signified are more important than the signifiers. It’s doubtful that conservatives need to undergo a rebranding in the same way liberals embraced the moniker of “progressives.” I suspect, to the extent Americans have a distinct idea of “conservatism,” they associate Trump less with whatever that is and more with the terms “populist” and “nationalist.” Though Mr. Kristol was clearly not making a serious proposal, conservatives should still focus more on advancing their ideas and policies instead of playing with words. Namely: they should be willing to work with Trump and his faction on common ground, yet hold fast when the occasion calls for it—just as they should with moderate Republicans and Democrats.

The more significant brand issue is with the label of “Republican,” and it’s yet to be seen whether American voters will equate the party as a whole with Trump. In 2006, voters took out their frustration with George W. Bush on the GOP and the brand became toxic. The same country would reelect Barack Obama shortly after, while thoroughly routing the Democrats at the state level in election after election — not to mention both chambers of Congress. If recent history is a guide, the president’s image can hurt his party, but not help. In this case, Republicans, both conservative and moderate, should be willing to distinguish themselves from the president — although it appears that he is already doing that for them.

Notes On the Alt-Right From the Satanic Girlieman Who Saw It Coming

by Alex Knepper

I.

Seven years ago, on our way en route to CPAC 2010, I got into an argument with current alt-right poster boy Richard Spencer — then just a measly freelancer and activist like yours truly — about race, politics, and the meaning of Western values. I was a 19-year-old college sophomore at the time; he was 32. I recounted the tale on David Frum’s website Frum Forum shortly after Spencer opened his own website, ‘Alternative Right,’ for the sake of exposing the ‘alt-right’ label, which he had just coined, as nothing but a thinly-veiled euphemism for white nationalism:

Tim Mak is right: the website Alternative Right is run by a white nationalist, for white nationalists.

I happen to intermittently know Richard Spencer, the site’s director. Through a couple of mutual contacts, I met him in the midst of CPAC 2009 and received a ride from him from Washington DC’s Dupont Circle, where we were each protesting the censorship imposed upon Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders, to the Marriott Hotel where the convention was being held.

Along the way, things got a little testy. We somehow got into discussing biological differences between the races. Our ideological differences soon emerged…

“Show me one black nation that’s ever been run competently,” he challenged me…

“This is not Western,” I said. “How can you possibly claim to stand for Western civilization? What’s brilliant about our values is that they stand for the individual, not the supremacy of the group. You come to America, you’re judged by your merits — not by what you look like.”

After a few more back-and-forths, we arrived at our destination, and as our car-mates went ahead, he told me to stay with him for a minute so he could talk to me. As the others faded into the background, he moved just inches away from my face, gave me a menacing look and yelled: “You little child. How dare you talk to me — me! — about the West! You don’t know the first thing about the West! You’re a little twelve-year-old who thinks he knows shit. Don’t you ever talk to me like that again or I will beat your face into the fucking ground!”…

I let him walk ahead of me, and it ended there. But that is the real Richard Spencer: a white nationalist, a bully, and an intellectual coward.

He replied to this by, essentially, denying the incident happened. (I stand by my account.)

Through other mutual contacts, I met a few other white nationalists at CPAC, and decided that I was interested in talking to more of them directly, so I could pick their brains and write something about what they were up to. One particularly blockheaded alt-right groupie failed to perceive me as hostile to his cause, and inexplicably invited me to visit a meeting held by a white nationalist group he was interested in, the ‘Wolves of Vinland.’ I did so, and wrote a trollish piece saying that these were the people Spencer, who had a sophomoric interest in Nietzsche (who, by the way, once proclaimed that he wanted to have anti-Semites shot and expressed gratitude toward the Jews), thought were the ‘supermen‘ who should form the new vanguard of the right:

Continue reading