For years, Steve Bannon has both carried on in public and been touted in the liberal press as a radical outsider, the political Svengali who came out of alt-right woodwork and helped Donald Trump burn down the leadership superstructure of the Republican Party with a cadre of white nationalists that previously were completely marginalized and de-legitimized.
That story has always been suspect, particularly in light of the reporting of the Real News Network on the pivotal role played by reclusive hedge funder/tech oligarch Robert Mercer in the reported financing of the Breitbart News website, neocon hawk John Bolton’s super PAC, the Citizens United 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Cambridge Analytica data firm, Ted Cruz’s 2015 campaign, and finally the 2016 Trump ticket. Bannon, former special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon and a veteran Goldman Sachs banker, has become a major political actor almost entirely because of the patronage of the Mercers and engagement by various entities within the shadowy network of GOP donors and organizations.
The popular narrative says that Bannon was exiled from his position in the Trump administration after the carnage at the Charlottesville Unite the Right rally resulted in multiple casualties and the murder of anti-racism demonstrator Heather Heyer. In this narrative, one that the liberal press in particular employs, Bannon has again become an outlier who lacks a gateway to the halls of power.
However, recent media developments over the past several months would suggest something much more complex and contra this outlier thesis.
On August 22, 2018, a new YouTube account called Citizens of the American Republic set up shop as the next platform for Bannon to distribute videos of his speeches to crowds like the Western Petroleum Marketers Association in Las Vegas, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, and even a crowd at a hotel in Hokkaido, Japan. But it was one particular video, featuring Bannon making a speech to the Committee on the Present Danger: China that is particularly noteworthy.
The Committee on the Present Danger has materialized in four different iterations since it was founded in December 1950 by James Conant, Tracy Voorhees and Vannevar Bush as a hawkish lobby that opposed diplomatic outreach to the Soviet Union, opposing SALT II and détente in its second formulation. Thirty-three members of that second group served in the administration of Ronald Reagan, himself a member in 1979. Several others made up Team B, the contrarian CIA intelligence analysis group that argued for a massive military build-up and stand-off with the Soviet Union, deploying a smokescreen to justify bloodshed and terror across the Global South. In 2004, the third formulation was led by Senators Jon Kyl and Joseph Lieberman, R. James Woolsey, and George P. Shultz to promote aggressive prosecution of Pres. George W. Bush’s War on/of Terror. This newest iteration includes many veterans from previous formations and is targeted specifically at saber-rattling towards Beijing, a matter documentary film maker John Pilger has been putting emphasis upon in the past several years as the major bipartisan threat to peace.
Alongside this has been a multimedia blitz, bearing many characteristics of earlier Bannon campaigns launched behalf of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman, that notably has a much more respectable aesthetic, clearly intended to cater to the country club class of GOP voters. One example is the large volume of coverage by a website called The Western Journal, which has a branding profile obviously intended to mimic the Wall Street Journal.
The revised version of Bannon’s career probably is more like this: After the Charlottesville events, the alt-right cadre of white nationalists he had assembled was shown to be too reckless, uncontrollable, and disreputable for the public. Bannon exited the White House and re-developed a base-building strategy that would instead be attenuated to law-and-order conservative voters, supporters of the GOP who can be called upon for service at the grassroots level but also have far more discipline than the earlier group.
However, notably, the propaganda campaign does not let up on the hard right racism that has been part of the Bannon modus operandi for years. While it pulls back from what Breitbart was publishing, a subtle argument for the re-introduction of eugenicist scientific racism, the media being released via these channels demonizes Black/Brown radical politics, traffics in reactionary talking points about “Black-on-Black violence,” supports Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party policies, creates paranoia about undocumented workers being criminal members of MS-13, and constructs an Islamophobic narrative deployed with talking points around Daesh/ISIS and the Obama’s so-called Iran nuclear deal. As the most glaring example, Hungarian fascist Sebastian Gorka is featured as a talking head in Bannon’s recent documentary, Trump@War, that was released in September 2018 to coincide with the midterm elections.
The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci wrote covertly while jailed by Mussolini in his Prison Notebooks about political struggle being composed of the war of position and the war of maneuver. The war of position is a cultural battle, waged by a political force in the press and other outlets of ideology, that tries to move the public support towards a political platform that one day can hopefully be implemented following a war of maneuver, the open use of force to gain power.
Bannon has obviously developed a strategy for waging a war of position in order to gain support for a platform of the most reactionary elements within the ruling elite, such as Robert Mercer. He only just barely succeeded with his war of maneuver in 2016.
Whether he succeeds in 2020 has yet to be determined.