Why Steve Bannon is on the NSC

When Stephen Bannon, assistant and chief strategist to Pres. Trump, was named a “regular attendee” of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee, co-equal to members of the NSC who must be Senate confirmed, the defenses from Trump-friendly pundits tended to fall within two categories.

First, defenders noted that Bannon’s status as as an “invitee” of the NSC and a a “regular attendee” of the Principals Committee does not legally require Senate confirmation.  This is correct, although this will not change Bannon’s influence over the NSC’s process and outcomes.

Second, Bannon was compared to Obama political advisor David Axelrod, though the Axe claims he merely observed the Principals Committee debate over U.S. strategy in the war with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  According to Axelrod, he and other political types did not attend regular meetings of the Principals Committee or their deputies and were not invited to weekly meetings on terrorist threats.

Trump aides have suggested Bannon is qualified for these roles based on his former Naval service or his experience at Breitbart, but I don’t think anyone else is taking those claims seriously.

So why have Bannon on the NSC?  The answer may rest in inverting the second concern regarding people like Axelrod.

Trump ran and won on a nationalistic “America First” worldview that elevates certain domestic political interests over supposedly more “globalist” concerns (and other domestic concerns that go unmentioned).  This was apparent not only regarding issues like immigration and trade, but also in a foreign policy motivated by a less interventionist impulse than other recent administrations.

Given the degree to which the administration’s skepticism of internationalism represents a break with the status quo, perhaps we should not be surprised that Trump wants Bannon representing this perspective during the NSC’s deliberations.

NSC decisions may be life-or-death for our troops.  Past administrations always sought to signal that those decisions would not be tainted by politics.  The administration has not argued that the politicization of the NSC is a feature, not a bug.  That’s probably because it sounds bad.  But it seems to be the real argument for having Bannon on the NSC.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar. And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading!

Had This Been President Clinton… (Likely a Continuing Series)

The WaPo’s Josh Rogin reported that during the tumultuous rollout of Pres. Trump’s EO on immigration for the Middle East, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly planned to issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, and refused a counter-instruction from White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon.

Rogin, however, failed to seek comment from the White House.  According to an appended “Editor’s Note,” WH spox Sean Spicer stated that “Stephen Bannon did not travel to see Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on the evening of Jan. 28.”

Plenty of folks on the right then swarmed onto social media to claim that the story was false, just like Rogin’s earlier piece overhyping resignations at the State Dept. — a story that even Vox’s Zach Beauchamp called “very misleading.” Ouch.

However, the problem with comparing the two stories should be obvious to anyone who remembers the Clinton Administration.  Spicer’s response is precisely the sort of lawyerly quasi-denial the Clinton White House would issue whenever controversy arose.

Indeed, had a Clinton White House issued a response like Spicer’s, folks on the right would be noting that he did not deny the key facts in the story: (a) Kelly planned to issue the waiver; (b) Bannon instructed him to not issue the waiver; (c) Kelly rebuffed Bannon and issued the waiver; and (d) Bannon and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller lost the ensuing debate about excluding key Cabinet officials from the EO process.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties would have noted that an Administration waging #WAR on the media certainly would have denied those reported facts if they thought they could get away with it.

Had this been the Clinton White House, righties also would have observed that the denial extended only to the question of whether Bannon traveled to see Kelly, as opposed to telephoning, for example.  And they would have joked — in their best voice impressions of Bubba himself — that “it depends on what the meaning of ‘evening‘ is.”

As HotAir’s Allahpundit observed: “American politics increasingly feels like a novel whose events are retold by two unreliable narrators, Trump being one and the media being the other. ”  Those who focus on the media’s manifest failures (and they are myriad) while accepting Clintonian verbiage from the Trump White House may be setting themselves up for a fall later.

Update: On Feb. 7, Politico reported that Kelly called the WaPo piece “a fantasy story”; The L.A. Times quotes him as claiming “Every paragraph, every sentence … was wrong.”  He also told Rep Kathleen Rice, “I work for one man.  His name is Donald Trump, obviously.”  A skeptic might take that as a dig at Bannon.  And in context, Kelly is clearly playing a good soldier falling on his sword.  He’s a man taking the blame for something in which he played no part.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar. And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks for reading!

Grand Old Pomos At #WAR

David Ernst recently argued that “Donald Trump Is The First President To Turn Postmodernism Against Itself,” which makes one point commonly understood by political thinkers and another that isn’t really discussed.  That’s unfortunate, as the second point is at least as important as the first.

Ernst’s first point is that Pres. Trump is a political postmodern antihero in the mold of Tony Soprano or Frank Underwood: he is seemingly distasteful, but people root for him when he exposes the hypocrisies of his enemies.

Ernst’s related, more salient point is that political postmodernism isn’t really nihilistic.  Rather, it hypocritically pretends that truth and morality are relative, while seeking to impose a particular set of values by increasingly fanatical methods.

While Ernst calls Trump a “right-wing postmodern antihero,” the “right-wing” part is debatable.  And if Trump is fighting postmodernism with postmodernism, perhaps he and his supporters are just as hypocritical as any left-wing activist.

Obviously, hypocrisy is common in partisan politics.  But as Ernst suggests, the objective of political hypocrisy usually matters.

You can see the tension in Warden’s much-circulated AOSHQ piece, “How Losing My Political Values Helped Me Gain My Freedom.”  Warden responds to criticisms of Trump in part as a consequentialist: “Yes, he’s basically a mirror version of Obama.  Except now, he’ll be working for what I want.  The end justifies the means.  You taught me that.” (Emphasis in original.)

Losing your political values sounds nihilist; Trump “working for what you want” does not.  Thus, it’s more useful to ask, “Which political values are hypocritically masked by Trump’s postmodernism?”

For example, Warden suggests one of his values is religious liberty, citing the mob shutdown of Memories Pizza as his final straw.  Do cases like that matter to Trump?

On one hand, Trump’s nomination of Judge Gorsuch for the Supreme Court vacancy could be a big victory for religious liberty.  Yet the nomination of someone like Gorsuch was more the product of pressure from conservative activists and institutions than Trump’s values.

Trump even framed the nomination in consequentialist terms, as the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

OTOH, Trump decided against issuing an executive order to overturn Pres. Obama’s protections for LGBT employees of federal contractors and strengthen legal exemptions for companies based on religious beliefs.  Disappointed social conservatives seem to be relying on VP Mike Pence regarding religious liberty, but Pence was hardly a stalwart on the issue as Governor of Indiana (the home of Memories Pizza).

Of course, that’s just one (important) issue, and the ultimate balance Trump will strike is unknown.  I suspect Trump’s heterodoxy will keep the disparate factions of his coalition guessing on many issues.

If the values Trump ultimately defends overlap enough with those of these various factions, he’ll maintain an effective coalition.  If he does not, the postmodern tactics, the Alinskyite rule-following and the Breitbartian #WARmongering may begin to look purely reactionary to voting blocs the GOP will need in 2018 and 2020.

PS: Consider subscribing to WHRPT in the sidebar. And following WHRPT on Twitter.  Thanks!

Starting a Blog in 2017: Am I Crazy?

Yes, obviously. But I thought I would start with an explanation of the method behind the madness (and it is madness).

Most of my published work appears at The Federalist and they are good to me there.  So much so that I have been writing more than I was even when FDRLST launched.

The flip side to this is that when I write more often, a part of my brain subconsciously starts evaluating most everything I see and hear for the possibility that it could be a column.

Some of the ideas that result are too short, or need some extra element to become fodder for an entire column.

Other ideas are what I call “cold takes.”  Sites focused on the culture, politics or the media — like most news sites — depend on subjects having a certain amount of drama, conflict or emotional heft to draw readers.  Clickbait is the extreme version of this, but it’s tough to fault sites for more responsible attempts to draw an audience in a highly competitive environment.  “Cold takes” can be interesting, insofar as they tend to be contrarian.  Yet I realize wet blankets aren’t very marketable.

Still other ideas may relate to news (or an article or op-ed) that is time-sensitive, unlikely to make it through an editorial process before it becomes stale.  Relatedly, there may be pieces I would write but for the near-certainty (or even unforeseen eventuality) that someone else at FDRLST already has it covered.

Lastly, there are ideas that are too “bloggy.”  I may read something at FDRLST (or elsewhere) that inspires further thoughts or a critique.  But FDRLST is generally not set up to run pieces of that genre.  Most sites aren’t.  NRO has The Corner; I occasionally see it when Slate has a roundtable discussing a TV show or something.  IIRC, HotAir tried it years ago and it never really took.

But why a blog? Because when I have ideas in the above categories, they tend to linger and interfere with ideas that can be turned into columns.  The blog should help clear my mind.

Why not join Medium or TinyLetter?  In part because I’m the sort of nerd who likes having control over my platform if I’m primarily responsible for it.  I like selecting fonts and line-heights (Sad!).  The minimalist design here is intended to not only play well across devices, but also to remind me this site should not become my main jam.

Rather,  WHRPT will be where I store my demos, rehearsal tapes, B-sides and rarities.  There will probably be a flurry of items at first while I clear my backlog.  After that, my posts will probably be — as Cher Horowitz might say — sporadic.

Accordingly, if you’re intrigued and would like to receive this newsletter, you should subscribe in the sidebar.  At the very least, follow WHRPT on Twitter.  Given how quickly Twitter moves, subscribing is probably better; I don’t plan on clogging your inbox (after the first batch of posts, anyway).