Steve Bannon and the Overton Window
A few years ago, names like 'Breitbart' and the 'Mercers' were unknowns. They weren't exceptionally important, and we had all filled out collective consciousness with information about more important people, like Kylie Jenner and Antonio Dobson and Rebecca Black. Until very recently, we knew little about one Stephen Bannon.
A couple of Novembers ago, Bannon was the victor. He had served as the chief executive in Donald Trump's presidential campaign, after leaving his post of executive chairman at Breitbart news. He went on to be a chief strategist, using that post to influence the implementation of the travel ban, get his own TIME magazine cover, influence a second travel ban, and label the media as the opposition party. And history, as we well know, is written by these victors.
The void of general information about Bannon was filled by his sudden stature as a political genius. He was widely seen as someone who normalized the fringe-type politics that were termed the 'alt-right', and drove that philosophy straight to Pennsylvania avenue in the shape of Donald Trump. This widespread acceptance led to his un-banishment from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the destruction of establishment politician Reince Priebus, and monikers such as 'the shadow president' and 'the great manipulator'. He was at least perceived as one of the most powerful people in the world, someone who wasn't a politician but had a dangerously powerful ability to craft legislation to suit his worldview.
In hindsight, 'overrated' is a generous term for Bannon. In a sense, all political strategists are somewhat overrated, since they're observed through a lens of recency bias. If they've scored a win, they're lauded. If they lose, they're forgotten. People like Mitt Romney are relegated to the footnotes of history (at least until they revive their political careers by running for a senate seat that's about to be unexpectedly vacant). But in general, you have the capability to be great, which lasts until you're just not great anymore. Bannon's overrated-ness had skyrocketed. He had scored 100%, but lost in that impressive figure was that he had only fought one fight.
And that greatness started to dry up somewhat quickly after Trump took office. The travel ban was blocked, and then blocked again. No other parts of his agenda – having to do with free trade, infrastructure, and overseas military presence – even saw discussion, let alone legislation. He attempted to recreate the Trump phenomenon in a bold proclamation that he would run primary challengers to every Republican incumbent (except Ted Cruz, for some reason), a move that was rooted in his ever-growing power. The results made the claim look flaccid – losses by confederate monument supporter Ed Gillespie and ACCUSED CHILD MOLESTER Roy Moore, and shaky outlooks for felon Michael Grimm and conspiracy theorist Kelli Ward. The Gillespie case is particularly interesting, as Bannon dumped him right after the loss. Breitbart ran headlines as the returns came in calling Gillespie an "establishment Republican tactician," a hard pivot from their effusive praise just days ago.
That election exposed Bannon for what he truly was: a carpetbagger. He's not a leader, manipulator, populist, or revolutionary. Rather, he's a bandwagoner, a frontrunner, an opportunist. And it wasn't just him; every media outlet that crowned him as a political savant front-ran right along next to him.
Bannon (apparently) agreed to be in (the also controversial author) Michael Wolff's new exposé book, "Fire and Fury," where he made vague accusations of treason in excerpts released this week. While it's unclear why he provided those when he did (or why he provided them at all), Trump's unprecedentedly (un-president-ly?) low approval rating and the unceremonious banishment back to the alt-right seem like motivating factors. Like the egotist he campaigned for, Bannon misattributed Trump's win as his own, and came to the flawed conclusion that 'Trumpism' wasn't exclusive to Trump, that he could carry its mantle to the entire country.
On that matter, Trump was right. Naturally, Trump had many things to say in a fairly explosive (but tempered since it was obviously written by someone else) rebuttal, among them "Steve… worked for me after I had already won the nomination by defeating seventeen candidates," and "now that he is on his own, Steve is learning that winning isn’t as easy as I make it look." Beyond the slightly nauseating self-congratulation, there is some truth. The election win was because of who Trump was and who Clinton was, and maybe partially due to Breitbart, but not because of Bannon's involvement with the campaign. Since, his election record is 0-2, including a costly senate seat.
Given the chance to deny these excerpts, Bannon passed, instead providing generically positive commentary about Trump. This resulted in the great Alex Jones called him an "owl on PCP," which if you believe, was also definitely true before these statements – owlish features are not known to come on in your sixties. Comments on recent Breitbart articles entirely unrelated to the story indicated that the readership was eager to cast Bannon aside. Even billionaire donor Rebekah Mercer chose Trump's side in the divorce, withdrawing her support from Bannon.
We already knew that Trump is someone who uses people until he finds it more convenient to discard them. And while Bannon was complicit in building his persona as a master marionette, it's now apparent that he too is just a leach in the mold of his prized candidate. Bannon's one win didn't make him king. His ouster from the White House (and his imminent banishment from Breitbart) means that he's reached his word limit in the annals of history. Especially since – as Trump so eloquently stated – he's just in it for himself.