/ Perspective

Trump or Bannon: Where Should Our Loyalties Lie?

This just might be the most difficult piece I' ever written. You would be hard-pressed to find a more difficult experience than witnessing two people you very much like in conflict with each other, whether it’s your parents, or two siblings, or two best friends.

The same is true for President Trump’s base, as this new feud between the president and former chief strategist Steve Bannon unfolds. However, even while the feud itself may be a minor speed-bump from which we shall easily move on, this episode nonetheless has given us all pause for thought as the Trump movement engages in some soul-searching.

First, the matter immediately at hand must be addressed. The “Trump vs Bannon” controversy may very well be another fake news hit job. The quotes by Bannon allegedly attacked President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Jr., as “unpatriotic” and “treasonous,” and called elder daughter Ivanka “dumb as a brick.” These quotes allegedly come from a new book called “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” by author Michael Wolff.

With just a quick bit of research, it is plain to see that Wolff has a history of fabricating quotes in past works—either by deliberately changing them or taking them out of context. This is evident in a book he wrote in 1998 called “Burn Rate: How I Survived the Gold Rush Years on the Internet;” fellow journalist Steven Brill reported that a total of thirteen people came forward after the book’s release to claim that Wolff had deliberately altered their quotes in the book. Wolff responded by claiming that he had email evidence to prove that his quotes were all authentic, but inexplicably refused to release them.

Even with this new book almost 20 years later, Wolff appears to have done it again. In the very same book where these alleged quotes by Bannon come from, another top Trump advisor has already come forward to declare that Wolff has falsified a quote from him as well. Thomas Barrack Jr., a billionaire real estate investor and close friend of President Trump’s who spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention, alleges that Wolff manufactured a quote by him saying, about the president: “He’s not only crazy, he’s stupid.” Barrack told a New York Times reporter, Maggie Haberman, over the phone that he never said this statement.

Until Wolff’s book is finally released, we have no way of knowing for certain whether or not the quote is real. I, for one, would certainly not put it past someone like Wolff—like the rest of the mainstream media—to deliberately make things up just to attack President Trump. Whether it’s spending $500,000 to convince women to make up sexual assault allegations against President Trump, or falsely reporting alleged contact between General Michael Flynn and Russian operatives, the media will stop at nothing.

But as I have said before, Trump’s enemies in the Left are learning that the best way to fight the president is to divide his base, even if this means deliberately lying and spreading falsehoods in order to do so. In the past, they have deliberately lied about his intentions on DACA, on the Paris Accord, and whether or not he was getting ready to fire Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

In what appears to be yet another deliberate, if not elaborate, lie has spun into perhaps the nastiest attack yet; if not for its target and execution, then for its aftermath. The Trump base now has to choose: Follow Trump, or follow Steve Bannon? Both men are iconic figures in today’s political world, and—depending on how Trump’s presidency unfolds—both may likely be forever remembered as two defining figures in a revolutionary period in American politics. One defied all the odds to win one of the biggest political upsets in American history, if not one of the greatest political upsets of all time; the other turned a small alternative media outlet into a machine that has become a cultural icon in the revolution against the mainstream media.

While President Trump is no stranger to brutal verbal attacks on his enemies, from the debate stage to his Twitter feed, few condemnations were more powerful than the one he issued against Steve Bannon upon hearing of Bannon’s alleged criticism of his son. The phrase “he not only lost his job, he lost his mind” may stick with many of us for a long time after all this is done. From discrediting Bannon’s role in key policy decisions to his role in the Alabama Senate election, it was more than just a classic Trump takedown; it was a full-blown tackle that metaphorically had Bannon on the floor while Trump mercilessly rained down hits on him. Imagine Bannon taking the place of Vince McMahon during the Trump vs. McMahon feud at WrestleMania XXIII in 2005.

But this is a conversation worth having, and we should have been having in the aftermath of Alabama. As we leave behind President Trump’s first year, we must accept the fact that the next seven years are going to be just as tough as this first year was, if not tougher. Bannon was right when he said that every day was going to be a fight.

And a big part of that fight is figuring out who is the best person to lead us forward and who can best advance our agenda. Many will say that we should stick to principles, to ideas and values and policies, rather than individuals. And this is an understandable stance to have, for people are mortal while ideas live on. After all, this is what ultimately brought Trump and Bannon together: the ideals of American Exceptionalism, economic nationalism, populism, tough immigration laws, traditional values, and culture. They both believe in, and support, the America First agenda that got Trump elected to the White House in 2016. But with devotion to a particular set of principles, we must also inevitably choose a leader to follow; for only a leader can implement those ideas.

Since Bannon’s departure from the White House, many have portrayed him as a noble warrior, doing all he can to fight the establishment in ways that he could not fight them from the inside. He was painted, alongside others such as Sebastian Gorka, as being driven out of the Trump White House by the elites who oppose the president’s America First agenda. Bannon himself has argued that the MAGA agenda is being deliberately hindered by the powers that be, particularly displayed by the Senate’s incompetence in repealing Obamacare.

However, it should be clear to see that the America First agenda is not in danger and still moving along as fast as it possibly can. After Bannon’s departure, President Trump rescinded both DAPA and DACA, and is now fast closing in on fixes for both the immigration system and our nation’s infrastructure as the next items on his agenda. NAFTA renegotiations are set to end sometime this month as well, with a decision imminent on whether or not to withdraw from the agreement. As Bill Mitchell said on Twitter, the movement did not elect Bannon; it elected Trump, and he has been “delivering in spades.” Kurt Schlichter of Townhall agreed, saying that Bannon essentially being “ejected” ultimately “won’t hurt the movement, no matter what Senator Roy Moore says.”

Bannon, of course, would have us believe that this isn’t enough, and that only his crusade to elect more America First candidates in 2018 can keep the dream alive by spreading the ideology through Congress. But obviously, his first such experiment ended in disaster, with deep-red Alabama electing a Democrat for the first time in over 25 years. This may be the consequence of a number of other factors beyond Steve Bannon’s control—the controversial nature of Roy Moore himself, the lack of enthusiasm among Republican voters due to a do-nothing Congress, and others — but there is no denying that Bannon himself will, and should, shoulder most of the blame. Donald Trump Jr. has already seen to that.

This begs the question: Can we truly begin replicating such victories as Donald Trump’s on a massive scale? Probably not. In other words, Bannon—in an effort to keep the momentum of 2016 going—may have been too hasty in trying to make more Trumps out of various Congressional candidates. Roy Moore’s candidacy was Bannon learning, the hardest way possible, that you can’t recapture that lightning in a bottle so easily. The cultural conditions must be right, the candidate must have the right name recognition and personality, and the campaign must hit on the exact issues to guarantee victory. It has been said before, and must be said again: Roy Moore was no Donald Trump.

Bannon’s failure in Alabama also brings up the issue of his role (if any) in Trump’s victory. According to the president’s statement, Bannon had little to no role in the historic victory. Now of course Bannon did play some kind of a role, as campaign manager alongside Kellyanne Conway (who is, noticeably, still a member of the administration); but in that role, did he do anything truly exceptional? He more or less followed the same adage as the first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski: “Let Trump be Trump.” His affinity for going on the offensive at almost all times could be seen as similar to the methods of Roger Stone, who also claims a lot of credit for Trump’s political rise—and certainly has more legitimacy in these claims than Bannon does. But as Mitchell said, At the end of the day, it’s about Trump.

Donald Trump was the candidate. Donald Trump had the bombast, and the name recognition, and the funding. And yes, it was Donald Trump who dictated the issues; he started his campaign by addressing the issue of illegal immigration on the very first day. You can find videos of him as far back as the 80’s where he’s talking about China ripping us off on trade. Trump has always been Trump, long before Steve Bannon came along. Bannon just happened to agree with him.

In that sense, perhaps Anthony “The Mooch” Scaramucci was right all along; maybe Bannon really is in it for himself, and simply sought to attach himself to Trump’s meteoric rise because of their common ground. What he claimed was a noble crusade to boost Trump’s presidency with 2018 Senate candidates was simply an effort to build up his own name, and further insert himself into a political scene which he would otherwise have nothing to do with. As Trump’s statement of condemnation said, Bannon allegedly tried to “make himself seem more important than he was;” the same would thus appear to be true outside the White House as well, as evident by Alabama. Once again, Trump Jr. agreed.

Perhaps the saddest part is that Bannon, more or less, already had all that he needed. He had returned to his natural environment at Breitbart, where he could continue building it up into the ultimate opposition to the mainstream media’s monopoly, and encouraging other alternative media outlets to rise up and join the ranks. To this end, rumors abounded of all the possible ways Bannon could expand Breitbart; from talks of taking it overseas, to Bannon allegedly having discussions with former Fox News CEO Roger Ailes about the possibility of a new cable news television channel (ostensibly to serve as a more pro-Trump alternative to Fox); the sky was the limit for Bannon.

Instead, he became swept up in the electioneering and tried to essentially turn Breitbart into a campaign apparatus. Now, coupled with these recent developments, Bannon’s credibility has been severely reduced even more so than before; as if it wasn’t enough for the Mercer family to cut their ties with Breitbart, now there are whispers that Breitbart’s board of directors may be considering firing Bannon. If that is indeed the eventual outcome, then it will be a truly tragic case of ambition gone horribly wrong. But in the end, perhaps it is for the best for the MAGA movement and the remainder of President Trump’s tenure. The Alabama experiment may have been a blessing in disguise, as it revealed the issues with Bannon’s methods early on, with still a year to go before the 2018 midterms.

Meanwhile, this debacle also proves that the Trump agenda cannot be rushed along as quickly as Bannon would apparently like it to be. It has been only but a year, and although it may feel like a lot longer, the fact remains that a lot has been done that we should all be grateful for. Bannon now stands as an example of what may become of all of us if we demand too much too quickly. It’s pretty safe to say that Steve Bannon does not have more knowledge about what is going on in government right now than the man who currently occupies the Oval Office; President Trump knows what he’s doing, and he knows how he will implement his agenda, one way or another. This is something that all those who feel the MAGA agenda isn’t moving fast enough need to be reminded of.

Yes, there have been serious roadblocks and issues since Trump took office—from an incompetent Senate to crooked left-wing judges—but in due time, the president will maneuver around these obstacles as well. Patience is a virtue, one that Bannon apparently could not make time for.

Above all else, there are two things we must take away from all of this, two critical lessons to be learned from this debacle.

First, Bannon is just another soldier, not our commander. Throughout this entire time, many of us among the Trump base have turned to Bannon as a sort of prophet for the movement—a MAGAssiah, if you will. But for those of us who put him on a pedestal at times—including yours truly—this has been a harsh reminder that, at the end of the day, Bannon was just another soldier. He is fighting the same war that we are fighting, and he is fighting for the same side; but he is not the emperor. History has proven time and again what becomes of soldiers who eventually see themselves as more important than their actual commanders—from Benedict Arnold to Douglas MacArthur.

Second, this is exactly what the Left wants, so do not give it to them. I have argued endlessly that the Right as a whole must be as united as possible, so that we can begin to fight back against the powerful collectivist mindset of the Left. Up until now, I have been addressing this argument at the anti-Trump portions of the Right—the NeoCons, the National Review crowd, the Evan MacMullins and Jeff Flakes, and so on and so forth. But it pains me to have to say the same thing now to the Trump base; before we can unite as the American Right, we must unite as a sect of the American Right. The National Populists must unite as we finish our takeover of the Republican Party, replacing the NeoConservatives once and for all. Then, once we become a fully united Right, then we can take the battle directly to the Left. Do not let these divisions take hold, lest the Left win again.

That is why, as always, President Trump’s Tweet on this matter was so fitting. Most will inevitably focus on him awarding Bannon his very own Trump-branded nickname: “Sloppy Steve.” With that name alone, he perfectly conveyed all of Bannon’s major flaws; he was sloppy by being so hasty with Roy Moore in Alabama, he was sloppy with trying to rush the MAGA agenda forward too fast, and he was sloppy at trying to build himself up even at the risk of the media empire he already had. But at the same time, most importantly, the president also took a direct shot at the scoundrel who caused this entire mess; he reminded us of Michael Wolff’s past credibility issues and stated that he was never given White House access, thus throwing many of his dubious claims and quotes into doubt.

Trump disposed of someone who had outlasted his usefulness and got out of line—just like General Flynn—but he still reminded us that the real enemy is the Left, and we must never forget that fact throughout this fight. Sometimes we will be disheartened as decorated officers—from the noblest to the rowdiest—are removed from command. It was hard to see such good men, from Flynn to Gorka, leave the administration. But we are all still fighting for the same side, and the cause for which we are all fighting is well worth it.

Bannon the Barbarian is out, but Donald J. Trump is still the Commander-in-Chief.

Eric Lendrum

Eric Lendrum

Eric graduated University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Political Philosophy. He authored, "You’re Damned, Right! A Concise Timeline of How and Why the California GOP Has Failed."

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Trump or Bannon: Where Should Our Loyalties Lie?
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