Is Steven Bannon marching America toward Messianic Apocalypse?

By John Feffer | (Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

What does it mean for international relations when the most powerful country in the world becomes a pariah state?

[In] Der Spiegel’s instantly infamous Donald Trump cover Donald Trump is holding up the severed head of the Statue of Liberty.

It’s a striking image for a magazine cover. But it’s not the front of the Nation or the ACLU newsletter. It’s this week’s issue of Der Spiegel, Germany’s version of Time Magazine. To punctuate the point, one of Spiegel’s articles declares Donald Trump “the world’s most dangerous man.”

Der Spiegel is channeling a widespread European sentiment. It took only a couple weeks for the Trump administration to make transatlantic relations so toxic that Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, felt the need to slap an orange alert on the orange-haired president. The new administration has seemingly “put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy,” Tusk wrote in a letter read round the world. In his urgent missive, Tusk identifies the United States as an external threat to Europe comparable to Russia or the Islamic State.

Because Brussels can no longer depend on Washington, Tusk’s letter amounts to an EU declaration of independence. What’s next? German activists dumping Snapple iced tea into the Rhone?

I can feel Tusk’s pain. The European Union faces a serious existential crisis, and Trump has made matters worse by supporting the EU’s dissolution. But this is just one of the fronts in America v. World.

The Trump administration has alienated seven Muslim-majority countries by attempting to ban their residents from entering the United States. One of those countries, Iran, is the subject of escalating rhetoric from National Security Advisor Michael Flynn — he “officially put Iran on notice” on Friday — which threatens not only the nuclear agreement but raises the potential of war.

China has been “on notice” ever since Rex Tillerson, in his confirmation hearing for secretary of state, suggested that the United States would stop Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea. North Korea has been warned not to test an ICBM. The Islamic State is presumably bracing to be bombed out of existence.

Trump himself has blasted Australia for its refugee policy, Japan for its currency manipulation, Germany for the temerity of acting like a sovereign country, and Mexico for the misfortune of bordering the United States. Some presidents pride themselves on visiting as many nations in the world as possible. Donald Trump, the Don Rickles of American presidents, prides himself on insulting as many nations as he can — late at night and with fewer than 140 characters. So sad!

There are several pariah states in the world. The head of Sudan is a mass murderer. No UN member states recognize the independence of Transnistria, a Russian puppet state that seceded from Moldova. North Korea is effectively frozen out of the international economy.

But these are small countries. What does it mean for international relations when the most powerful country in the world becomes a pariah state?

Trump’s got it wrong. It’s not America First.

It’s America Alone.

The Powerful Pariah

It’s not the first time that Americans traveling abroad have had to pretend that they’re Canadians out of fear or embarrassment.

The George W. Bush years featured torture, extraordinary rendition, and military invasions that went terribly, horribly wrong. The Reagan era brought the world close to nuclear war. Nixon’s term-and-a-half was full of dirty tricks at home and abroad. It wasn’t only Republican presidents who sullied the reputation of the United States, but these three took an almost perverse delight in thumbing their noses at international norms.

Previous U.S. administrations have taken an a la carte approach to global policy, picking and choosing what they want from the kitchens of the world. The Trump administration, on a strict diet of fast food, refuses to order anything on the menu, except perhaps a small bowl of borscht — and it’s even reserving judgment on that.

Yet it was the United States that cooked up this whole world order in the first place and seasoned it specifically for American tastes. After World War II, the global economy ran on the dollar. America had disproportionate influence over institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. The U.S. military ensured access to the necessary raw materials to fuel the rise of a large American middle class. The U.S. government facilitated the spread of American music and movies.

But the United States couldn’t go it alone. It needed secure allies to reduce the threat to the American homeland and stabilize the global economy. A united Europe emerged as a bulwark against the Soviet Union. Alliances with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines were supposed to prevent the spread of Communism throughout Asia. Washington also needed Europeans and Asians to become middle-class consumers of American goods and services: their prosperity was linked to our prosperity. American car manufacturers and software producers need access to a global market. American businesses rely on international talent — otherwise known as immigrants — to fuel innovation.

Being a pariah, meanwhile, is generally bad for business and the economy, as any average North Korean or Eritrean could tell you. The reaction of American businesses to the Trump administration’s executive order on travel restrictions for Muslims — with protests coming from Starbucks, Silicon Valley, and major executives — indicates just how big the cleavage within the Republican Party will grow if Trump remains on this trajectory.

Meanwhile, consumers are building their own domestic BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement, like #grabyourwallet, to target the Trump web of oligarchs. The prospect of a trade war with China, Mexico, and other countries that provoke Trump’s ire has Wall Street in total freak-out mode.

Other countries are poised to take advantage of America’s new pariah status. Germany finds itself the default “leader of the free world.” Russia has become a more pivotal wheeler-dealer. China is fancying itself the great helmsman of the global economy. “If people want to say China has taken a position of leadership, it’s not because China suddenly thrust itself forward as a leader,” a Chinese foreign minister official told reporters. “It’s because the original front-runners suddenly fell back and pushed China to the front.”

Even the Islamic State is cheered by the loss in U.S. stature. As Samia Nakhoul writes for Reuters, “Jihadists are still celebrating Trump’s election triumph in online forums, saying it vindicates their argument that his views show the United States’ true face and that his policy will polarize communities, one of the militants’ goals.”

Immediately after September 11, Jean-Marie Colombani penned the famous essay in Le Monde in which he asserted that “we are all Americans.” It was not an entirely complimentary article, however. Further down in the essay, the French journalist observed, “America, in the solitude of its power, in its status as the sole superpower, now in the absence of a Soviet counter-model, has ceased to draw other nations to itself; or more precisely, in certain parts of the globe, it seems to draw nothing but hate.”

The Trump administration is not interested in drawing other nations to itself. It seems reconciled to inspiring hatred. The new crew is comfortable with the solitude of its power — and the zealotry of its vision . . .

Steve Bannon is a zealot in two senses of the word. He is an extremist who doesn’t believe in ordinary political compromise. But he’s also a zealot in the more historical sense that Reza Aslan outlines.

He wants to cleanse America of all foreign elements — not just immigrants (who stand in for the non-Jews of Biblical time), but also “globalists” (who stand in for Rome). He wants to chase the moneychangers of what he calls “crony capitalism” from the temples of American life (and don’t most of our banks and financial institutions resemble ancient temples?). He speaks to those left behind by economic change. He is opposed to Islam, secularism, and any religious sentiment that contradicts his own Salafist interpretation of Catholicism. And he comes not to bring peace — domestically or internationally — but to bring a sword, the same sword that Trump wields on the cover of Der Spiegel.

Jesus became a pariah for his efforts. He was opposed by the Jewish orthodoxy that he wanted to eliminate. He was crucified by the Roman authorities he wanted to oust from Palestine. Only much later did he become a symbol of power and authority when the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in the 4th century CE.

Bannon is comfortable having the United States raked over the coals by international leaders, the Trump administration “crucified” in the press, and his own name vilified by protestors in the street. To effect a thorough, bottom-to-top revolution in domestic and international affairs, the United States must risk pariah status. Such is the way new orders are born. Nor is Bannon alone in his efforts. He is joined by both religious zealots (like Mike Pence) and geopolitical zealots (like Mike Flynn).

Donald Trump, meanwhile, is not particularly religious, not particularly ideological, not particularly interested in the world beyond what his stubby fingers can grasp. He is merely a meat puppet, a random Tweet generator, a distraction on two legs, a convenient stalking horse. He’s old and greedy, interested only in the short con. He wants to be admired, not reviled as a pariah. But he’s also capable of monumental self-deception, which extends to his mistaken belief that the “real people” have all rallied behind him.

Bannon and his fellow extremists, by contrast, are in it for the long haul. As zealots, they’re willing to put up with pariah status for as long as it takes. Make no mistake: it will get ugly. The liberal internationalists that they excoriate as “globalists” are putting up a fight. So is the not-so-silent majority.

The question is: How long will the wealthy of Wall Street and the well-connected of Washington continue to follow Bannon and company down this road of reactionary revolution?

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus and the author of dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Cult Of Personality Of Steve Bannon | Morning Joe | MSNBC

8 Responses

  1. Bannon is unlike any American courtier ever – essentially a European pseudo intellectual, a self taught acolyte of reactionary Catholic ideas taken from Cardinal Burke, Italian fascist philosophy borrowed from Evola and others, and Anglo Russian geo political theories of Makinder and Pugin. Such an anti Enlightenment illiberal cocktail has never befuddled Washington before. The notion that this hooded figure now manipulates Trump is truly terrifying. The incurious American people have yet to wake up and realize what an unprecedented, sinister – and potentially calamitous – turn of events this is.

    • Yeah, he’s much weirder than the neo-Confederates I expected would be the American Right’s final form. Their obsession – which they lie about – is with the year 1860 as the beginning of all evil. Bannon’s obsession is with the year 1914. Here are his remarks at a far-right Catholic conference in 2014.

      “It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians…

      One thing I want to make sure of, if you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored. I can see this on Wall Street today — I can see this with the securitization of everything is that, everything is looked at as a securitization opportunity. People are looked at as commodities. I don’t believe that our forefathers had that same belief…”

      I looked up the manuscript I wrote back in 2004, The Upture, in which a right-wing madman leads a coup to take over the Internet and launch a fake Second Coming of Christ in virtual reality, using the digitized minds of “Raptured” Republicans as the stormtroopers. This character’s rationalizations for the world of 1914 are just about identical to Bannon’s remarks.

      Of course this description of 1914 is bullshit. But White folks want to believe it, and it lets them put a little distance between themselves and the blatant White supremacy of their Southern allies. We should be very scared of this vision.

    • There are few things more unstable and dangerous than an old man who ignores their dependencies/addiction. Especially, when a chemically-altered knowing madman is in a position of power, trust and authority and an insecure, ego-maniac POTUS seeks his counsel.

      “WHY no one addresses that this guy is obviously a total drunk . ?

      Start with FEAR.

  2. Sir John Salmond

    . Bannon’s agenda: “To effect a thorough, bottom-to-top revolution in domestic & international affairs, US must risk pariah status”

  3. On the very day I went to early-vote last year, I read a long section of a book called “The Fall of Apartheid” by Robert Harvey. But I only wanted to read the first part, which of course was about its rise as an ideology that stormed into electoral victory in 1948.

    And that is entirely the story of the Broederbund, the Afrikaner supremacist cult that swore to conquer South Africa by any and all means. It was a creepy blend of American-style racism and Nazism, as if a German racial theorist were the governor of Alabama. Its real power was not the hatred of Blacks, but of the relatively liberal English-speaking capitalist elite, who could not help but follow the rest of their Commonwealth and their world into accepting that Blacks would have to be given the right to vote after the victory against Hitler… a victory that many Afrikaners did not celebrate. The most sickening thing about these cultists was the hyperbolic self-serving Wagnerian romance they wove over the “Afrikaner spirit” needing to rule over the wilderness – while all along the #1 problem they were secretly wresting with was how to industrialize South Africa using semi-enslaved Black labor.

    So there are many parallels to the alt-Right and its usurpation of Redneck Christian America in a march to power. But when I compared the 30 years of hard work put in by the Broederbund fanatics to Bannon, I realized: He thinks he’s the Broederbund. He thinks his gang of keyboard commandos have reprised the great crime of the Broederbund. He’s a lazy, self-absorbed pig who doesn’t understand the first thing about actual governance.

    And he completely discounts the humanity and power of everyone outside his tribe, here and abroad. The outside world is just a Nigger that will fall silent when Massah picks up the whip.

    Just like South Africa – Boycott, Disinvest, Sanction. But let’s not wait 30 years this time. If the Broederbund had no answer for it in the ’80s, then this piker, this Cliff Notes lightweight, this degenerate monument to intellectual masturbation, hasn’t the slightest clue.

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