Steve Bannon’s clever idea to save the GOP from brutal midterms

Bannon was in Rome to learn from and provide support to the unusual coalition of populists and nationalists who together won half the vote in Italy’s recent elections and have formed a government. Bannon sees that sort of coalition — mixing left and right, old and young — as his goal for the United States. “Europe is about a year ahead of the United States. . . . You see populist-nationalist movements with reform [here]. . . . You could begin to see the elements of Bernie Sanders coupled with the Trump movement that really becomes a dominant political force in American politics.”

.. The Republican Party’s strategy, for now, appears to be to make the midterm elections a series of local contests focusing on the tax cut and the healthy economy. Bannon views this as fundamentally misguided. “You have to nationalize the election,” he said. Bannon understands that voters are moved from the gut more than through a wonky analysis of taxes. “This is going to be an emotional [election] — you’re either with [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi or you’re with Donald Trump.

.. Bannon is most focused on the issue of immigration because it hits both the heart and the head. “Immigration is about not just sovereignty, it’s about jobs.”

.. He believes that the Trump coalition can attract up to a third of Sanders supporters who see trade and immigration as having created unfair competition for jobs, particularly for working-class blacks and Hispanics.

.. “You’re not going to be able to take the Hispanic and black community from the STEM system in grammar school to our best engineering schools . . . to the great jobs in Silicon Valley, unless you start to limit these H-1B visas and this unfair competition . . . from East Asia and South Asia.”

.. Now this strikes me as entirely wrong. The reason that not enough Hispanic and black students end up in Silicon Valley has much more to do with a broken education system, particularly for poorer kids, than the modest number of skilled Asian immigrants who get work visas.
.. The most likely result of limiting these visas is that talented immigrants will simply go elsewhere — Canada, Britain, Australia — and start successful companies there.
.. The Democratic Party is too far to the left on many of these issues, embracing concepts such as sanctuary cities, which only reinforces its image as a party that is more concerned with race, identity and multiculturalism than the rule of law.

.. I wrote last month that Trump would try to fight the midterm elections on immigration and added, “Do not be surprised if Trump also picks a few fights with black athletes.”

.. He predicted the next major battle would be over the proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. “The wall is not just totemic. The wall is absolutely central to his program. . . . As we come up on Sept. 30, if [Congress’s] appropriations bill does not include spending to fully build his wall . . . I believe he will shut down the government.”

.. Bannon doesn’t think the fighting and the rancor in the United States are going away any time soon. The “battle between nationalists and globalists is at the fundamental roots of what America is, what America will be,”

The Conspiracy Theory That Says Trump Is a Genius

The theory is fascinating as an artifact of our current political derangement, but more than that, it’s profoundly revealing about the lengths to which some Trump supporters will go to convince themselves that his presidency is going well.

..  In the QAnon reality, Trump only pretended to collude with Russia in order to create a pretext for the hiring of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, who is actually working with Trump to take down an inconceivably evil and powerful network of coup-plotters and child sex traffickers that includes Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and George Soros.

.. “QAnon points out that this is the beginning of the end for the Clintons,” said Jerome Corsi — a prominent proponent of the lie that Obama was born in Kenya

.. the world would be forced to contend with “films of innocent children pleading for their lives while people are butchering them.” Once that happens, presumably, Trump will be revealed as a master of 12-dimensional chess who successfully distracted smirking elites with his buffoonery while he was quietly saving the world.

.. The creativity poured into QAnon is striking; it’s like something between a sprawling work of crowdsourced postmodern fiction and an immersive role-playing game.

.. But for many people, QAnon is very real. Barr has tried to make contact with Q on Twitter. InfoWars, the website run by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones — who has a close relationship with Trump confidant Roger Stone — has consistently promoted it.

.. Cheryl Sullenger, senior vice president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, posted an article on the group’s website about an “intel drop” from Q revealing a White House plan to end Planned Parenthood. Sean Hannity retweeted a post with the #QAnon hashtag.

.. Some elements of the QAnon conspiracy theory — secret elites, kidnapped children — are classic, even archetypical. “In all Western culture, you can argue that all conspiracy theories, no matter how diverse, come from the idea of the Jews abducting children,”

.. Stories about globalists stealing children for sex aren’t that far removed from stories about Jews stealing children to use their blood making matzo.

.. One twist, however, makes QAnon unusual. Conspiracy theories are usually about evil cabals manipulating world events. QAnon, by contrast, is a conspiracy theory in which the good guys — in this case, Trump and his allies — are in charge.

.. It’s a dream of power rather than a bitter alibi for victimhood. It seems designed to cope with the cognitive dissonance caused by the gap between Trump as his faithful followers like to imagine him, and Trump as he is.

.. legislation many on the right deplored, was shortsighted. In releasing funds to the military, it said, the bill would set off a climactic series of events: “Swamp drain begins, military seizes TRILLIONS in cabal assets, returning them to the people.”
.. An inspector general report would then reveal the establishment’s unspeakable crimes, after which “the strings will be cut from the propaganda machine and people will stop falling for the garbage MSM,
.. You don’t create a wild fantasy about your leader being a covert genius unless you understand that to most people, he looks like something quite different. You don’t need an occult story about how your side is secretly winning if it’s actually winning.
.. Their desperate conviction that they will be proven right about Trump betrays a secret fear that they will be proven wrong.

In Praise of Globalists

“As a right-wing conservative and founding member of the Freedom Caucus, I never expected that the co-worker I would work closest, and best, with at the White House would be a ‘globalist,’ ” Mulvaney said in a tweet. “Gary Cohn is one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with.

.. Globalist belongs in a class of words (“cuck” is another one, as is “othering”) that tends to say a great deal more about the person who uses it than it does about the person he says it about.

.. To be an anti-globalist, on the other hand, does specify something. It means someone who is convinced that serious business is transacted at conferences like Davos or Bilderberg or Munich, and that 500 or so people run the world at the expense of everyone else.

.. anti-globalism is economic illiteracy married to a conspiracy mind-set.

.. Who in the White House is left to tell the president he’s nuts when he tries to pull out of Nafta?

.. expats are our real globalists, representing the things that make America great:

  • adventure,
  • engagement,
  • commerce,
  • openness to new ideas, and
  • a love of America honed by a combination of critical distance and a new depth of appreciation.

Sec. Steve Mnuchin Refutes Reporter’s Portrayal of Davos as ‘Hangout for Globalists’

One reporter asked Mnuchin of the Trump administration’s decision to send a large delegation to the event: “What is the point of the Trump administration going to a place that is regarded, usually, as a hangout for globalists?”

“Well, I don’t think it’s a hangout for globalists,” Mnuchin shot back.

.. The secretary said the economic team’s purpose at the high-profile gathering “is going to go over and talk about the America First economic strategy.”

President Donald Trump will attend Davos from January 23 to January 26 and it will be lead by Mnuchin. During Thursday’s briefing, Mnuchin said, “We’re thrilled that the president is coming, and I think what we know is that the economy that’s good for the U.S. is good for the rest of the world.”

Other members of the delegation include Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Tom Bossert, Assistant to the President and Senior Adviser to the president Jared Kushner, Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development Mark Green, and Commissioner of Food and Drugs Scott Gottlieb.

.. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders later released a list of additional members that will travel as part of the delegation to Davos: Chief of Staff John Kelly, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn as well as other members of the White House staff. They will be traveling with the president.

Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, to depart Trump White House

National security adviser H.R. McMaster called Powell “one of the most talented and effective leaders with whom I have ever served.”

.. Powell, like her colleagues, faces the question of how much influence she ultimately had on the president and his approach to foreign policy.

.. Along with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the special representative for international negotiations, Powell has been an architect of Trump’s Middle East policy.

.. Powell, also a former Goldman Sachs executive, was to many Trump supporters the antithesis of what the administration should support, given her close ties to Wall Street and support of a traditional Republican view of international affairs.

.. Powell has been lumped into what former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon dismissively calls the “globalists.”

.. One senior White House official described Powell’s relationship with President Trump as “really trusting” and said of his first year in office, “Without her, it would have been worse.”

.. She also worked on Capitol Hill as a House leadership staffer during the tenure of House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.)

Bannon’s departure is unlikely to calm the turmoil in Trump’s White House

Trump predicted Bannon would be “a tough and smart new voice at @BreitbartNews . . . maybe even better than ever before,” adding: “Fake News needs the competition!”

.. Several friends and former co-workers said that they expect Bannon to use the platform to attack his political opponents, including those he has derided as “globalists” and Democrats inside the White House.

“I think Steve is going to be more effective on the outside,” said Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and a longtime friend of Bannon. “On the outside, if you are well-funded and you are feared and you have a platform, you are going to be a power player. Steve has all of that in spades.”

.. Trump and Bannon associates also expect Bannon to continue to have Trump’s ear, as has been the case with some other fired staffers such as Corey Lewandowksi, Trump’s first campaign manager, who periodically shows up at the White House.

“With Donald Trump, once he likes you, you’re either in his inner orbit, or you’re in his outer orbit,” said Christopher Ruddy, chief executive of Newsmax Media and a member of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla. “You never leave altogether.”

.. “What it does not do is remove the person who’s creating the most drama in the White House, and that’s Donald Trump,” the strategist added. “He’s going to continue to do what he’s going to do.”

.. On most of these issues, there is no evident strategy among Republicans on either side of Pennsylvania Avenue for bridging divisions and bringing Trump and congressional Republicans together.

.. Trump has grown increasingly unhappy with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and rarely mentions House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) in private conversations, blaming both for his legislative troubles

.. a flurry of bravado-filled interviews with Bannon appeared on various websites, including one in which he said he felt as if “I’ve got my hands back on my weapons” and was prepared to “crush the opposition.”

.. Advisers to senior congressional Republicans were taken aback that none of the combative language was countered by the White House.

“They just sat out there,” said one Republican aide. “That told me everything about whether the White House actually cares about making clear it’s on our side.”

.. Ever since Priebus left, many Republican officials have found it harder to engage the White House and to feel assured that the administration “understands the language of Republicans,”

How to Roll Back Fanaticism

We’re living in an age of anxiety. The country is being transformed by complex forces like changing demographics and technological disruption. Many people live within a bewildering freedom, without institutions to trust, unattached to compelling religions and sources of meaning, uncertain about their own lives. Anxiety is not so much a fear of a specific thing but a fear of everything, an unnamable dread about the future.

.. Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment. He lacks inwardness and therefore is terrified by the possibility of anxiety. He has been escaping self-scrutiny his whole life and has become a genius at the self-exculpating rationalization. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong.

.. Trump gave people a quick pass out of anxiety. Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites. The problems are clear, and the answers are easy.

.. The alt-right, which has emerged in support of the Trump administration, is marked by the same conspiratorial epistemology. It provides explanations for complex events that allow its followers to avoid anxiety.

  • .. The world is secretly controlled by the globalists.
  • The Sandy Hook school shooting never happened.
  • There’s a child abuse ring run by Clintonites out of a pizzeria in Northwest D.C.
  • All the ambiguities of life can be explained by pointing to the malevolent webs of secret power

.. If the alt-right thinks the globalists secretly and malevolently control society, the neo-Nazis go back to the original version and believe that a conspiracy of Jewish bankers does. For them, tribalism is not only a way to feel some vestige of pride in their own lonely selves, it’s also an explanatory tool.

.. The world can be a bewildering place, but not if you see it as a righteous war between whites and blacks, between straights and gays. The neo-Nazis are not the first group to discover that war is a force that can give an empty life meaning, even a race war.

.. The age of anxiety inevitably leads to an age of fanaticism, as people seek crude palliatives for the dizziness of freedom.

.. I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths.

.. In fact, the most powerful answer to fanaticism is modesty. Modesty is an epistemology directly opposed to the conspiracy mongering mind-set.

.. Progress is not made by crushing some swarm of malevolent foes; it’s made by finding balance between competing truths —

  • between freedom and security,
  • ‘diversity and solidarity.

There’s always going to be counter-evidence and mystery.