How ‘bad guys’ planned vic­tory

Devil’s Bar­gain con­sid­ers a de­scrip­tion of a no­to­ri­ous power pair­ing. com­mends a ‘defiant’ project

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - By Joshua Green

Pen­guin Press, £16.99 Re­viewed by Robert Philpot

DEVIL’S BAR­GAIN, Joshua Green’s highly read­able ac­count of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Steve Bannon and Don­ald Trump, should carry a health warn­ing. There is some­thing about the cast of char­ac­ters — a col­lec­tion of far­right ac­tivists, odd­ball bil­lion­aires, and po­lit­i­cal op­por­tunists — lit­ter­ing its pages that can leave read­ers feel­ing queasy.

The prin­ci­pal sup­port­ing ac­tor in this grim pro­duc­tion is Bannon, Trump’s for­mer chief strate­gist. A con­ser­va­tive Catholic from a work­ing-class, Irish-Amer­i­can home, his “kalei­do­scope ca­reer” — en­com­pass­ing spells in the navy, Gold­man Sachs and Hol­ly­wood — set­tled on pol­i­tics just over a decade ago af­ter a chance meet­ing with Andrew Bre­it­bart.

One of that rare breed of Jewish con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists, Bre­it­bart was about to launch his epony­mous news web­site. With Bre­it­bart’s en­cour­age­ment, Bannon, who had been “dab­bling in mi­nor Hol­ly­wood mogul­dom”, be­gan to churn out right-wing doc­u­men­taries. Bre­it­bart — whose jour­nal­is­tic ethics are such that Fox News barred him as an on-air guest — ad­mir­ingly termed him “the Leni Riefen­stahl of the Tea Party move­ment”.

With Bre­it­bart’s sud­den death in 2012, Bannon was thrust cen­tre-stage. Tak­ing the helm at Bre­it­bart News, he dou­bled-down on its founder’s vi­sion. With its racially charged, pop­ulist agenda, the site be­came the flag­ship of the alt-right, the “rolling tum­ble­weed of wounded male id and ag­gres­sion”, which would later pro­vide many of the Steve Bannon: from side­line spin­ner to side­lined ca­su­alty of pres­i­den­tial power that he helped cre­ate

on­line war­riors in Trump’s cam­paign.

But Bannon’s am­bi­tions — this is a man who has on his of­fice wall an oil paint­ing of him­self dressed as Napoleon, a gift from Nigel Farage — stretched wider than Bre­it­bart News.

He thus worked to place him­self at the cen­tre of what Hil­lary Clin­ton once dubbed the “vast, right-wing con­spir­acy” that sought to drive her hus­band from of­fice; a con­spir­acy which was now de­ter­mined to en­sure an­other Clin­ton did not sit in the White House.

Bankrolled by ec­cen­tric bil­lion­aire Robert Mercer (who once do­nated to a

Repub­li­can con­gres­sional can­di­date who be­lieved the se­cret of ex­tend­ing hu­man life lay in pre­serv­ing thou­sands of urine sam­ples), this con­sisted not only of a sup­pos­edly non-po­lit­i­cal re­search in­sti­tute, but also a film pro­duc­tion com­pany and a cut­ting-edge data an­a­lyt­ics com­pany. It even­tu­ally proved fa­tal to Mrs Clin­ton’s hopes.

It is at this point that Green’s lead­ing man, Don­ald Trump, makes his ap­pear­ance. What Trump lacked in be­liefs (he ap­pears to have few, other than an en­dur­ing be­lief in his own great­ness), Bannon more than made

up for. He pro­vided the as­pir­ing pres­i­den­tial can­di­date with what Green aptly characterises as an in­ter­nally co­her­ent, na­tion­al­ist world-view that taps into Trump’s own gut in­stincts. Trump dubbed it “Amer­ica First” (“I don’t care,” he re­sponded when told it echoed Charles Lind­bergh’s an­ti­semitic Amer­ica First com­mit­tee) and, with Bannon cheer-lead­ing from Bre­it­bart, be­gan to build a po­lit­i­cal move­ment rooted in white iden­tity pol­i­tics.

It is a nox­ious cock­tail, which fre­quently spews clouds of an­ti­semitism. Jewish jour­nal­ists, for in­stance, fre- quently found their Twit­ter feeds del­uged with an­ti­semitic im­agery (the Anti-Defama­tion League later cal­cu­lated that 2.6 mil­lion Tweets were sent in the year lead­ing up to the elec­tion, with the per­pe­tra­tors dis­pro­por­tion­ately likely to self-iden­tify as Trump sup­port­ers or part of the “alt-right”).

Nei­ther can­di­date nor cam­paign man­ager ap­peared un­duly con­cerned (the lat­ter often re­ject­ing the sug­ges­tion of any as­so­ci­a­tion with an­ti­semitism by not­ing that both Bre­it­bart and Bre­it­bart News’s pres­i­dent, Larry Solov, were Jewish). In­deed, Trump’s clos­ing cam­paign ad which fea­tured three Jews — Ge­orge Soros, Fed­eral Re­serve chair Janet Yellen and Gold­man Sachs chief ex­ec­u­tive Lloyd Blank­fein — and warned of a “global power struc­ture”, which “robbed” work­ing-class Amer­i­cans, earned a jus­ti­fied re­buke from the ADL. “Dark­ness is good,” Bannon told Trump in re­sponse. “Don’t let up.”

Green’s de­scrip­tion of the man­ner in which Trump and Bannon com­bined “power and reach”, thereby en­sur­ing they achieved “strength and in­flu­ence far be­yond what ei­ther could have achieved on his own” is his book’s strong­est fea­ture.

Since its pub­li­ca­tion, Bannon has left his role at the White House and Trump, in adopt­ing much of the agenda of the Repub­li­can right, has aban­doned many of his pop­ulist na­tion­al­ist pledges, if not the rhetoric that ac­com­pa­nied them.

On the morn­ing af­ter Trump’s elec­tion, a reporter sug­gested to Bannon their story had all the mak­ings of a Hol­ly­wood movie. “Brother,” he replied, “Hol­ly­wood doesn’t make movies where the bad guys win.”

Robert Philpot’s books in­clude ‘The Hon­orary Jew’, a study of Mar­garet Thatcher, (Bite­back Pub­lish­ing)

PHOTO: AP

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