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Steve Bannon and what a bad week really looks like

Trump Tracker


“Sloppy Steve” Bannon becomes an Ahab-esque antihero. - GAGE SKIDMORE / FLICKR.COM
  • Gage Skidmore /
  • “Sloppy Steve” Bannon becomes an Ahab-esque antihero.
I went to bed on Saturday night reading Fire and Fury, which, if I need to explain it at this point, is Michael Wolff’s ribald and riveting account of the early days of the Donald Trump regime. It quickly became clear in the book that no one involved in Trump’s campaign expected or wanted him to win.

That was a horrible thought: Trump and his motley crew of enablers, the doltish adult children, sleazeballs like former Trump campaign managers Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski, fascists like former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Senior Advisor for Policy Stephen Miller — they all overestimated the American people.

They thought we were better than we were.

They thought they were safe because we would never elect Donald Trump.

I went to sleep with this somber thought. At some point in the night, I woke up smelling smoke. I got up and looked around and sniffed and couldn’t find anything. It was like 10 degrees in Baltimore that night so I assumed it was a neighbor’s fireplace.

At about 9 a.m., my wife woke me. “The dog is acting weird,” she said.

The dog was shaking, pawing at us.

“Smoke!” my wife yelled.

I looked over and smoke was coming up through the floorboards. Then it burst into flame by the foot of the bed.

Fire and fury ensued. This is the essence of this year.

Ultimately, the fire in my bedroom wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been. The fire department — Big Government! — was there before the blaze destroyed much. Firefighters cut through the floor and broke the windows. Most of the damage was caused by the smoke. We were safe and we didn’t lose anything of real value. We have renters insurance and I’m writing this from a hotel, where I spent a lot of time waiting on the bureaucracy of insurance and disaster mitigation to move. I bought the audio book of Fire and Fury and listened to the rest of it as I threw out former possessions that were now nothing but junk.

However difficult my week, it turned out to be much better than that enjoyed by many of the people in the figurative conflagration of the book — especially Steve Bannon.

Bannon is the almost Ahab-esque antihero of Fire and Fury, which in many ways charts his rise and fall — at least up until the point that the book’s publication precipitated a further fall. For being such a horrendous pseudo-intellectual schlub, Bannon is also fascinating — a far-right Svengali. According to Harvard studies, during the last election, Breitbart News Network, with Bannon at the helm, was three times as influential as its next closest competitor (measured in terms of retweets and shares), the titanic Fox News. Bannon was at least partly responsible for that — and for getting Trump elected.

That perception, that Bannon orchestrated Trump’s victory, as shown in another book, Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain, was probably the No. 1 factor in his August White House ouster — even more important than the alt-right terror that ripped apart Charlottesville that month.

In Fire and Fury, though, Bannon is right about how horrible the Trump kids and Jared Kushner are. It was actually beautiful to listen to him (or Holter Graham, who read the audiobook) railing against the idiocy of Jarvanka — Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

And Jarvanka were also right about him, his whack-job far-right Leninism, reveling in the destruction of the world. That circular firing squad is what makes the book so compelling. All of these people are so disastrously wrong about America, but they are pretty right when they assess each other’s weaknesses. Bannon’s weaknesses are nearly infinite, but the most important ones are intellectual. Sure he’s a slob and all that, but he is also a sexist, racist, “nationalist,” who created a section of the Breitbart site called “Black Crime.”

After Wolff quoted Bannon saying that Donald Trump Jr.’s Russia meeting was treasonous, the president went on the attack with a new epithet, “Sloppy Steve.” Bannon tried to apologize, saying he was really attacking his predecessor as Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort. But it wasn’t enough. Bannon was fired first from Breit-bart and then from his Sirius XM show (with Fox preemptively refusing to hire him). Worst of all, billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer, who have supported him and funded his nationalist endeavors, cut ties with their schlubby honey badger.

I watched all of this play out on cable as I tried to deal with the disaster bureaucracy. It was delightful to see the pundits all talking about Bannon’s terrible week, even if it came for all the wrong reasons.

But Bannon did not have the worst week in Washington, D.C. That prize goes to the more than 12,000 Salvadorans who live in the District (the numbers are far larger if you count the D.C. suburbs, which have large Salvadoran enclaves). Ultimately, a Department of Homeland Security directive to end the Temporary Protected Status for people who came to the U.S. from El Salvador following a 2001 earthquake will affect more than 200,000 people who have been in the U.S. for more than 15 years now.

It’s almost impossible to imagine how deeply that will affect their communities in and around the District.

Bannon may be gone but this is the essence of the dark alignment of Bannon’s alt-right with Jeff Sessions’ revanchist racism and Trump’s big boner for a wall. So on Thursday, when Trump was meeting with a group of senators about TPS and reportedly asked why we have so many people coming here from “shithole countries” like El Salvador, Haiti (which already had its TPS rescinded) and various nations in Africa, it was clear that it didn’t matter whether Bannon was in the White House or “in the wilderness.”

The racists who took over our country may have overestimated us. We should not do the same for them.

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