Steve Bannon is out. H.R McMaster is in. It’s now starting to dawn upon some of Donald Trump’s most ardent admirers that they’ve been had. The main accomplishment of the Trump revolution has not been to forward populism. It has been to devour its own children.
Trump entered office declaring that ‘this carnage ends now’. Not so. He’s been producing it in the form of lopping off the head of one adviser after another. Bannon is now promising ‘war’ against the ‘New York Democrats’ that he says are running the White House. If so, it will be a fratricidal one.
Bannon was of course the brains behind Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton, something that the president could never entirely forgive. Trump wants all the credit for himself. Now Bannon is headed back to familiar territory, Breitbart News, the truculent alt-right outlet, where he hopes to revive his crusade for economic nationalism. In the White House Bannon apparently devoted much of his energies to trying to foment a trade, if not an actual, war against China.
It went nowhere. Bannon’s true legacy, such as it is, comes in the sphere of the recrudescence of white nationalism. But here, more than anywhere else, Trump has come to grief. His brand, after the bloodbath in Charlottesville, VA, is irredeemably tainted now that he drew a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and protesters. This manifests itself in ways large and small. The GOP is quaking over the damage Trump is inflicting upon the Republican brand. At his beloved club Mar-a-Lago, the so-called winter White House, a variety of businesses are fleeing various scheduled charity events. Trump himself has magnanimously pledged not to attend the annual Kennedy Center Honors, a gala event that honorus leading American artists. He can no longer plausibly preside over celebratory events, despite his Twitter claim on Saturday that America will ‘heel’ from its recent clashes.
Writing in the New York Times, Julius Krein, the sagacious founder of the journal American Affairs, a publication sympathetic to the Trump agenda, issued a kind of mea culpa, acknowledging that Trump has been a disaster. It only remains, Krein concluded, to salvage something from the ‘wreckage’. Still, it required more than a leap of faith to expect that Trump could ever really accomplish anything of consequence. So far, he has only succeeded in energising the left.