The deal­maker with a Trump in his hand

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

On the wall of Steve Ban­non’s of­fice hangs a por­trait, a gift from Nigel Farage, for­mer leader of the UK In­de­pen­dence Party. It de­picts Don­ald Trump’s po­lit­i­cal guru as Napoleon in his study at the Tui­leries, in the style of Jac­quesLouis David’s great neo­clas­si­cal paint­ing.

It is only half a joke. Be­cause in the alt-right world of pop­ulist-na­tion­al­ist in­sur­gency, Ban­non is the em­peror. The for­mer chief of the right-wing Bre­it­bart News now serves as chief strate­gist in the White House. He is the pur- veyor of the in­cen­di­ary po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy that un­der­pinned Trump’s vic­tory and the man who gal­vanised an ail­ing cam­paign in Au­gust 2016. Like Bon­a­parte, Ban­non rose from nowhere to wield ex­tra­or­di­nary power.

“Trump wouldn’t be Pres­i­dent if it weren’t for Ban­non,” writes Joshua Green, a jour­nal­ist at Bloomberg Busi­ness­week, in this sturdy, bal­anced and in­for­ma­tive ac­count of the re­la­tion­ship at the heart of the Trump pres­i­dency.

US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions tend to throw up an em­i­nence grise who is both in­tensely colour­ful and faintly sin­is­ter: Ge­orge W. Bush had Karl Rove; Bill Clin­ton had James Carville; and Trump has Ban­non, a foul-mouthed, hard­nosed, un­shaven, flip-flop-wear­ing Sven­gali with a con­sis­tent and bullish hard-right agenda.

Trump and Ban­non could hardly be more dif­fer­ent in char­ac­ter, yet they came to­gether in un­der­stand­ing and clev­erly ex­ploit­ing white work­ing-class anger over im­mi­gra­tion, Is­lam, the po­lit­i­cal sta­tus quo and Hil­lary Clin­ton. As Green tells it, the Amer­ica-first phi­los­o­phy de­rived largely from Ban­non. At the mo­ment when con­ven­tional wis­dom in­sisted that Trump must tone down his rhetoric, Ban­non let “Trump be Trump” and struck a chord with vot­ers that few oth­ers had.

The “devil’s bar­gain” of the ti­tle is the un­spo­ken deal be­tween the two men: “To­gether, their power and reach gave them strength and in­flu­ence far be­yond what ei­ther could have achieved on his own.” Ban­non got his “fully formed, in­ter­nally co­her­ent world view” into the heart of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics; Trump got the White House.

Long be­fore he tapped Ban­non to run his fal­ter­ing cam­paign, Trump had come to rely on him for in­spi­ra­tion and guid­ance, bas­ing his bar­rage of tweets firmly on the anti-im­mi­grant, Hil­lary-bash­ing Bre­it­bart News web­site. At a con­ser­va­tive con­fer­ence in June 2015, Trump could be heard call­ing for his Rasputin: “Where’s my Steve? Where’s my Steve?”

Ban­non started out as a blue-col­lar Demo­crat, the son of an Ir­ish-Amer­i­can tele­phone en­gi­neer who wor­shipped the Kennedy clan. Born in 1953 in Vir­ginia, he stud­ied to be an ur­ban plan­ner and then joined the navy. The earthy, “towel-snap­ping” cul­ture of the naval ward­room coloured not just his lan­guage but his hard-edged, mil­i­tant world view. The hu­mil­i­at­ing fail­ure of the 1980 Ira­nian hostage res­cue at­tempt turned him against Jimmy Carter and sharply to the right. His idea of a loom­ing global war against Is­lamic fas­cism was born.

Ban­non left the navy for Har­vard Busi­ness

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