Steve Bannon and the God-King want the media – and reality – to “shut up.” Not. Gonna. Happen. (More)
“You’re the opposition party”
“The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile,” Mr. Bannon said during a telephone call.
“I want you to quote this,” Mr. Bannon added. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
“You’re the opposition party,” Mr. Bannon said. “Not the Democratic Party. You’re the opposition party. The media’s the opposition party.”
Most elected officials – and all political candidates – sometimes complain about media coverage. They all would prefer a media who function like a public relations machine that they control, one that always portrays them as positively and their opponents as negatively as possible. But also recognize and accept that they will be subject to media scrutiny. They may not like it, but they at least acknowledge the legitimate role of a free and critical press as “the Fourth Estate.”
Bannon and the God-King don’t acknowledge that role. They don’t simply ‘prefer’ a media who function as their P.R. machine. They expect the media to do that – and only that – and they’ve threatened “consequences” for reporters and publishers who do anything else.
“Isn’t that a contradiction?”
No More Mister Nice Blog’s Steve M exposes the fallacies beneath Bannon’s bluster:
A couple of questions for you, Stevie. You want the mainstream media to “shut up” – and yet you’re asking the MSM to quote you. Isn’t that a contradiction? Shutting up would mean not publishing anything, including your words of spittle-flecked rage. So which is it: Do you want to be quoted in the MSM or not?
And if you want to be quoted in the MSM, why, if you say the MSM has “no power”?
The answer is obvious: You still believe the MSM still does have power, and it’s killing you. You’ve got this great gig, and the backing of the most powerful man on the planet, and still you just can’t be happy, because you know you’re under media scruitiny every day. If you had an adult’s temperament, like the previous president and many of his aides, you’d just put your head down and do your job. But you can’t, because the fact that you can’t completely crush the media eats away at you.
Yet I disagree with parts of Steve M’s analysis. Yes, Bannon and the God-King recognize that the media still have power …
“Two institutions in American life that are traditionally charged with establishing the factual basis that inform national-security decisions”
Trump is taking on two institutions in American life that are traditionally charged with establishing the factual basis that inform national-security decisions – the press in its public discourse and the intelligence community behind closed doors in the Situation Room.
In making foreign policy, what a government does should flow from what it purports to know about the world. For an administration that says it is bent on upending aspects of the established order, that means there is a premium on seizing control of baseline facts to fortify its narrative of an America in decline, our economy depleted by trade, our borders overrun by hordes bent on doing us harm.
Much of the world may not find Trump’s early battles unfamiliar, let alone alarming. The United States has always distinguished itself from more autocratic powers like Russia and China, or from our partners in the Middle East, by the protections we provide our press, and by our aspiration to preserve some autonomy from political interference for the analysis of our intelligence agencies.
If Trump prevails in these fights, he could do more than simply enact his agenda; he could alter aspects of our political culture in ways that will be difficult to reverse.
In that article at The Atlantic, Jon Finer offers a cogent analysis. But again, I think he stops short. Bannon and the God-King are at war with the media and intelligence officials …
“It’s striking how much a bright, inquisitive, public-spirited guy can take for granted that just is not so”
… because they’re at war with Reality itself. The entire appeal of the God-King’s populism-as-white-supremacy is grounded in beliefs that are not true, as Mother Jones’ Rich Perlstein explains:
Peter is 21 and comes from a town of about 3,000 souls. It’s 85 percent white, according to the 2010 census, and 1.2 percent African American – which would make for about 34 black folks. “Most people live around the poverty line,” Peter told the class, and hunting is as much a sport as a way to put food on the table.
Still, Peter’s thinking might help us frame a central debate on the left about what to make of Trump’s victory. Is it, in the main, a recrudescence of bigotry on American soil – a reactionary scream against a nation less white by the year? Or is it more properly understood as an economically grounded response to the privations that neoliberalism has wracked upon the heartland?
Peter knows where he stands. He remembers multiple factories and small businesses “shutting down or laying off. Next thing you know, half of downtown” in the bigger city eight miles away “became vacant storefronts.” Given that experience, he has concluded, “for those people who have no political voice and come from states that do not matter, the best thing they can do is try to send in a wrecking ball to disrupt the system.”
When Peter finished with that last line, there was a slight gasp from someone in the class—then silence, then applause. They felt like they got it.
Perlstein was impressed … until he researched Peter’s hometown:
According to the 2010 census, the median household income in Peter’s county is a little more than $45,000. By comparison, Detroit’s is about $27,000 and Chicago’s (with a higher cost of living) is just under $49,000. The poverty rate is 17.5 percent in the county and 7.6 percent in Peter’s little town, compared with Chicago’s 22.7 percent. The unemployment rate has hovered around 4 percent.
The town isn’t rich, to be sure. But it’s also not on the “bottom.” Oklahoma on the whole has been rather dynamic economically: Real GDP growth was 2.8 percent in 2014 – down from 4.3 percent in 2013, but well above the 2.2 percent nationally. The same was true of other Trump bastions like Texas (5.2 percent growth) and West Virginia (5.1 percent).
Peter, though, perceives the region’s economic history as a simple tale of desolation and disappointment. “Everyone around was poor, including the churches,” he wrote, “and charities were nowhere near (this wasn’t a city, after all), so more people had to use some sort of government assistance. Taxes went up [as] the help became more widespread.”
He was just calling it like he saw it. But it’s striking how much a bright, inquisitive, public-spirited guy can take for granted that just is not so.
In other words, pretty much everything Peter said about the economic catastrophe that was his hometown … was wrong.
But while Peter’s analysis is at odds with much of the data, his overall story does fit a national pattern. Trump voters report experiencing greater-than-average levels of economic anxiety, even though they tend have better-than-average incomes. And they are inclined to blame economic instability on the federal government—even, sometimes, when it flows from private corporations. Peter wrote about the sense of salvation his neighbors felt when a Walmart came to town: “Now there were enough jobs, even part-time jobs…But Walmart constantly got attacked by unions nationally and with federal regulations; someone lost their job, or their job became part-time.”
It’s worth noting that if the largest retail corporation in the world has been conspicuously harmed by unions and regulations of late, it doesn’t show in its net profits, which were $14.69 billion in 2015. And of course, Walmart historically has had a far greater role in shuttering small-town Main Streets than in revitalizing them. But Peter’s neighbors see no reason to resent it for that. He writes, “The majority of the people do not blame the company for their loss because they realize that businesses [are about] making money, and that if they had a business of their own, they would do the same thing.”
How is it the federal government’s fault that Walmart buys and sells foreign-made goods and cut-rate prices, driving local producers and retailers out of business, while paying wages that often leave employees needing food stamps to survive?
Because Peter’s story really isn’t about the economics of his small town at all:
Feelings can’t be fact-checked, and in the end, feelings were what Peter’s eloquent essay came down to – what it feels like to belong, and what it feels like to be culturally dispossessed. “After continually losing on the economic side,” he wrote, “one of the few things that you can retain is your identity. What it means, to you, to be an American, your somewhat self-sufficient and isolated way of life, and your Christian faith and values. Your identity and heritage is the very last thing you can cling to…Abortion laws and gay marriage are the two most recent upsets. The vast majority of the state of Oklahoma has opposed both of the issues, and social values cannot be forced by the government.”
Instead, Peter’s story is about white conservative resentment: “identity and heritage.” Peter has been fed a media narrative that clothes that white conservative cultural resentment in a largely mythical economic malaise.
Moreover, the right-wing howls of about that largely mythical white male economic malaise (“Bring our jobs back!”) are very different from the solutions they shout at women and people of color (“Educate yourself and move to find a better job!”).
And finally, the God-King’s economic team clearly despise workers. For Secretary of Labor he chose a fast-food mogul with a history of shortchanging employees, hardly surprising when you consider that the God-King built his business on stiffing contractors and employees … and that’s not just decades-old history. The God-King will take credit when businesses announce long-planned hiring moves, but ultimately his policies won’t do a damn thing to help Peter’s economic outlook …
… except keep telling a story where Peter’s future would be ever so much brighter if only those pesky women and people of color and LGBTs were put back in their place, if only we stopped helping to feed kids in Africa, if only we knocked the Chinese economy down a few pegs, if only….
None of that offers even the slightest benefit for Peter’s actual economic condition. But it sure feels better than being told – as conservatives routinely tell women and people of color – “Educate yourself and move to find a better job!”
To maintain Peter’s belief in that con – to keep the wool over Peter’s and others’ eyes long enough to stay in the White House long enough to rake in billions for themselves and their kin – Bannon and the God-King must muzzle or discredit anyone who might introduce Peter to … Reality.
That’s why Bannon told the Times to “shut up.” That’s why the God-King likened intelligence professionals to “Nazi Germany.” The God-King and his cronies are at war with Reality itself.
And Reality has a way of winning….
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Good day and good nuts