White House counselor Stephen Bannon has appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference before. Now that the intelligence community (with an assist from the media and likely Obama alumni) has easily dispatched Mike Flynn, the man who was supposed to tame the deep state, Bannon should make a return visit, if he can avoid going to Paramus.
With Flynn’s quick departure, many are saying Bannon is next on the target list of foes outside the administration and rivals within it. Writers like John Fund and Steve Berman are already concerned about another character assassination in progress.
Some of their critiques are more valid than others. Bannon has landed a top political job with little in the way of a track record; it’s natural that he would be the subject of media investigations. Some of the resulting non-stories seem sillier than “Mitt Romney hazed a kid several decades ago,” but I don’t fault the exercise per se.
In contrast, the fact that Bannon referred to obscure Italian philosopher Julius Evola during a 2014 conference held by the Human Dignity Institute is highly interesting, even if the NYT (and some on the alt-right) might be misreading Bannon’s comments regarding Evola as supportive of fascism. It’s true that Bannon is an eclectic reader, but given the entirety of his comments regarding nationalism at the conference, his reference to and apparent study of Evola — a leading proponent of Traditionalism — was hardly accidental.
Bannon notes that one of Russian Pres. Vladimir Putin’s advisers is a devotee of Traditionalism and opines that this is one of the bases of Putin’s support. He then notes that Traditionalists “don’t believe in this kind of pan-European Union or they don’t believe in the centralized government in the United States. They’d rather see more of a states-based entity that the founders originally set up where freedoms were controlled at the local level.”
[Here — although this is just my take — as far as Americans go, Bannon seems to be referring to a particular class of paleoconservatives, though one could argue that the lines between them and the alt-right or neoreactionaries are fairly blurry.]
Bannon quickly added that he’s “not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents,” but concluded that “where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.”
In these comments, Bannon didn’t endorse fascism or Putin, though he did reveal something about his global priorities circa 2014. Bannon didn’t really endorse Traditionalism, either, though it would be fascinating to probe further into whether it influences his thinking and if so, how it differs from Evola’s conception or Putin’s deployment.
These questions scratch the surface of topics on which Bannon’s reading might illuminate his thinking. He’s also recommending David Halberstam’s The Best and the Brightest as a warning against hubris. The book is highly critical of the elites who served (or disserved) JFK and DC’s compliant press corps. It’s easy to see how those themes fit into a Trumpian world view.
It’s less clear how Halberstam’s elevation of experience over theory plays out in Trumpworld. The administration has nominated its share of military officers, for example — but Bannon himself seems more a theorist than practitioner. And the insular groupthink condemned in the book perhaps should have been considered before hastily rolling out a major executive order on immigration with little input from people with relevant experience.
So why should Bannon visit CPAC? Because Bannon has thought a great deal about the direction in which Trump may lead America and the underpinnings of that thinking are poorly understood by the media and the public. Indeed, close to half of the country has never heard of Bannon or has no opinion about him.
CPAC would be an ideal venue for Bannon to sit down for an expansive Q&A on his philosophies of politics and governance — a live event that protects him from the selective editing of a suspect media. Bannon’s 2014 comments suggest he can be a confident advocate for his views. Remaining opaque will only make his critics more suspicious.
PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar (the posts come straight to your inbox; no muss no fuss). And following WHRPT on Twitter. Thanks for reading!