A Year Late, The Turd of Steve Bannon’s “Populist Nationalism” is Hanging Around Republican’s Necks
Something stinks down in the heartland.
After losing a Senate seat in the reddest of red State of Alabama, in an election where the party threw itself behind the particularly vile Roy Moore, the GOP is worried they may be starting to have an image problem.
And the knives are now officially out for Steve Bannon, the right wing huckster, former presidential aide, and architect of Moore’s ascendancy.
Many people, myself included, thought Bannon a kind of Svengali who was able to tap into the American psyche in a way that no one else could. But his greatest asset was that no one saw him coming.
Not any more. The stink of his faux-populist, hateful ideology is wafting all over this party now, and they are scrambling to disassociate themselves from him. But this is not something new. Bannon is the culmination of a trend that has been occurring for years now.
The Faustian Bargain
Cultural conservatives and the business community were never natural allies, but the division between the two groups has never been more stark. This threatens the future of the party, as Theo Anderson points out in an article for In These Times.
In order for the Republican revolution of the 80’s to occur, there had to be a grand bargain between the right’s populist element, and its more traditional constituents on Wall Street and in the Chamber of Commerce.
The bargain since Ronald Reagan’s presidency has been that the wealthy get their tax breaks, their shills in Congress and the hyper-concentration of wealth and power. The less fortunate group gets candidates who align with their right-wing views on guns, abortion, same-sex marriage and other social issues.
Conservative politicians have made their living waging cultural war against liberals, gays, immigrants, and other perceived threats to liberty. Cultural issues such as these have little impact on the lives of the wealthy, who almost certainly hold the working class members of their party in contempt.
That this schism would manifest itself in Alabama is fitting. The region has been a decades long case study in failed conservative polices:
In Alabama, for example, one-party Republican rule is a long, sorry tale of economic stagnation. The state’s per household income is about $11,000 below the national median, and 17 percent of residents live in poverty. That’s the fifth-highest rate in the nation, according to a recent report in the New York Times.
These areas who are hit hardest by Republican economic policies, and are offered no viable solutions, inevitably turn to cultural resentment to voice their anger.
People like Bannon are happy to exploit these resentments. His rise shows that the culture warriors, emboldened by the Trump presidency, are making a power play. He has vowed to wage open war on the republican establishment, and is using Breitbart as a battering ram against them.
In forcing their hand, he is drawing the ire of many in his own party, a fight he welcomes. But he is also unearthing a dirty little secret…
The Jig is Up
By first pretending to be a populist, and then totally shocking everyone with his election victory, Trump was able to successfully curate the narrative that his win was somehow a victory for the “forgotten man”.
He is often credited as speaking for “half of the country”, as though placating his base at the expense of everyone else is somehow a substitute for championing causes of the people.
But it turns out he and Bannon have been up to an old Republican game. They are using clever politics to cover up their lack of substantive ideas:
The result of this bargain is a party whose social and economic policies are almost comically unpopular—its current tax bill, for example, has an approval rating in the 20s. Yet the GOP manages to control every branch of the federal government through a blend of gerrymandering, voter suppression, campaign cash and the rural biases built into our political system.
Through cynically gaming the legislative process, and relying on a self-reinforcing media loop, the GOP has convinced their core supporters that they are the true majority.
This is fine as long as people like Bannon don’t make a stink. But if he has gone rouge, and decided to blow the cover of the saner members of the party, it could very well spell trouble ahead.
The leaders of the party have long known about this toxic element, and have tried to sweep it under the rug as best it could while still using dog whistles to court the unsavoury elements of racism and xenophobia. The strain has always been there, from the John Birch Society right up until the recent birther movement. They have been playing with fire for decades now, and Bannon just may be the gasoline that fuels their demise.
The Trump/Bannon nationalist wing of the party is generating a backlash unlike any in recent memory. It is entirely possible that the coming elections could be a bloodbath for the GOP. It serves them right if it is. There were many who knew this was a disaster, but stayed silent and latched on anyways, making a Faustian bargain in order to win bigly. Now the whole thing is blowing up in their faces.
In any decent world, the punishment for such a dubious action would be something akin to the death penalty, the total dissolution of the party. If they do indeed represent something more than the angry faux populism of the far right, they have yet to have a single member of their party stand up and say what it is.
It may just be that anyone capable of that was purged long ago. If so, then Bannon’s war will continue to be a horrible look to mainstream America.
The upset win by Doug Jones in Alabama shows the Republicans have nothing to offer and everything to lose. One consequence of the election results in Alabama is that the hostility between the establishment and the populist elements of the GOP coalition will rise to a new, potentially unsustainable level.