Review of “Devils Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency”

Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the PresidencyDevil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Pretty good timing in picking up this book, with Trump firing Bannon just a short time ago. It was definitely worth the read, highlighting the role of Steve Bannon in the Trump campaign, even before he took on a formal role. The book allegedly drew the ire of the Donald himself, as it really does bestow much credit on Bannon for the ultimate success of the Trump campaign. In Trump world taking credit away from Donald Trump is a sure fire way to get dumped.

The book serves as a mini-biography of Bannon, giving us his background and world view, and how that fit into, and helped mold, the Trump campaign narrative. That viewpoint is the nationalist, anti-globalist views espoused by the Trump campaign.

“Everywhere Bannon looked in the modern world, he saw signs of collapse and an encroaching globalist order stamping out the last vestiges of the traditional. He saw it in governmental organizations such as the European Union and political leaders such as German chancellor Angela Merkel, who insisted that countries forfeit their sovereignty, and thus their ability to maintain their national character, to distant secular bureaucrats bent on erasing national borders. He saw it in the Roman Catholic Church, whose elevation of Pope Francis, “a liberal-theology Jesuit” and “pro-immigration globalist,” to replace Pope Benedict XVI so alarmed him that, in 2013, he established Breitbart Rome and took a Vatican meeting with Cardinal Raymond Burke in an effort to prop up Catholic traditionalists marginalized by the new Pope. More than anywhere else, Bannon saw evidence of Western collapse in the influx of Muslim refugees and migrants across Europe and the United States— what he pungently termed “civilizational jihad
personified by this migrant crisis.” Expounding on this view at a 2014 conference at the Vatican, Bannon knit together Guénon, Evola, and his own racial-religious panic to cast his beliefs in historical context. Citing the tens of millions of people killed in twentieth-century wars, he called mankind “children of that barbarity” whose present condition would one day be judged “a new Dark Age.” He added, “We are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.” Bannon’s response to the rise of modernity was to set populist, right-wing nationalism against it. Wherever he could, he aligned himself with politicians and causes committed to tearing down its globalist edifice: archconservative Catholics such as Burke, Nigel Farage and UKIP, Marine Le Pen’s National Front, Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom, and Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. (When he got to the White House, he would also leverage U.S. trade policy to strengthen opponents of the EU.) This had a meaningful effect, even before Trump. “Bannon’s a political entrepreneur and a remarkable bloke,” Farage said. “Without the supportive voice of Breitbart London, I’m not sure we would have had a Brexit.”

Green, Joshua. Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (p. 207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Green, Joshua. Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (pp. 206-207). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Bannon wanted to appeal to the white working class, and he wanted to fine tune the political effort to tear down Hillary Clinton. The book highlights how Bannon took a different strategic turn in the anti-Clinton war, looking to reach outside the conservative echo chamber to strike blows against her that would reach more mainstream sources, and achieve a penetration that would hurt her credibility outside of conservative circles. Bannon took lessons from the drubbing that President Bill Clinton gave to the right, and his anti-Hillary propaganda campaign stayed away from the errors Bannon felt the right had made in the first attempt to tear a Clinton down. Some good insight on the Bannon thought process, and how the book “Clinton Cash” played a significant role in his effort. 

Bannon, even though he has been deposed in the White House, was a truly key player in the campaign, representing, in my view, the key political mind that identified the dynamic that allowed Donald Trump to find the road to victory through the industrial Midwest. As Bannon surveyed the scene the morning after the election his thoughts were clear:

“But now, as the sun came up over Manhattan, he could see how everything had come together exactly according to script. “Hillary Clinton was the perfect foil for Trump’s message,” Bannon marveled to a reporter. “From her e-mail server, to her lavishly paid speeches to Wall Street bankers, to her FBI problems, she represented everything that middle-class Americans had had enough of.” The beauty of it was that no one had seen her downfall coming. “Their minds are totally blown,” he said, laughing. Clinton’s great mistake— the Democrats’ great mistake— was one he recognized all too well, since he’d watched Republicans commit it during their anti-Clinton witch hunts of the nineties: they’d become so intoxicated with the righteousness of their cause, so thoroughly convinced that a message built on identity politics would carry the day and drown out the ‘deplorables,’ that they became trapped in their own bubble and blind to the millions who disagreed with them—“ and that goes for you guys in the media, too,” he added.”

Green, Joshua. Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (p. 236). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. Green, Joshua. Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (p. 235). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

This is the second campaign book of this cycle that I have read, with each one accenting the separate campaigns. (“Shattered” by Jonathan Allen is the other.) The author had great access to Bannon, and for the most part wrote the narrative without betraying a bias. For many Democrats reading this book will be painful, but understanding the mindset, and tactics, of Steve Bannon is a necessary exercise if there is going to be a successful response in 2018 and beyond. The future of the Democratic Party depends on first understanding, and then effectively responding to the appeal that Bannon fashioned to some traditional members of the Democratic coalition.

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