Donald Trump is many things. Stupid is not one of them. The tycoon has just smashed the orthodoxy, closed down one of America’s longest running political businesses (the Clintons) and is about to become President with a mandate for change. As someone remarked the other day, if anyone else had pulled of such an extraordinary win we would by now be reading glowing profiles of the candidate and the behind the scenes wizards – the strategists, the pollsters, the donors – who worked their magic.
This being Trump, there is none of that. Instead there is merely a howl of rage, a primal scream, from the media and liberal opinion in the US and beyond. That is understandable after what just happened. I get it. I was upset too. As a Reaganite who reveres Harry Truman, I’m appalled by Trump’s vulgarity and narcissism. He seems particularly unsuited to the Oval Office and unprepared – spooked even – by the impending responsibility. But even for me the onslaught against him since the election is starting to pall. He won, he will be President and rather than examining what they missed, and how the 2016 campaign was called so badly, the media tendency is to move straight back into attack mode, repeating many of the mistakes made before the election.
For example, it is said in the US media that Trump’s transition is in chaos, and he and his team don’t know what they’re talking about even on the basics of how government works. Perhaps it is, but please remember those accounts of chaos are coming mainly from Team Obama, which when you think about it has an interest in presenting itself as the bunch of professionals advising vulgarians and hicks. Obama’s transition was hardly perfect at the time, and some key appointments took longer than anticipated, but the media and much of the world was so enraptured by his election, and distracted by the meltdown of the global financial system, that there was little criticism.
Trump is still tweeting! Sure, that’s funny on one level, although he was obviously toying with his critics when he said on Twitter of his cabinet that only he knew the “finalists”, thus reducing it to the level of the Apprentice and other reality TV shows. The Trump team are obviously going to struggle to get the balance right, between allowing Trump to be Trump and attempting to enforce discipline and the authority of office. But Trump won by breaking a lot of rules. He got his candidacy going by rallies and social media. Why would you expect him to stop now? Shouldn’t his opponents be looking for someone smart who can use social media and be authentic in a manner that connects with voters and might win in 2020?
Worse, the New York Times and others are appalled that Trump went out for dinner in New York last night without telling them. The horror! Really. The idea being that this is a breach of media protocol, because the President is supposed to alert the press pool whenever he travels, even if he goes out for a steak. This sounds like a stupid protocol long overdue scrapping, and another example of the liberal parts of the mainstream US media regarding themselves as the arbiters of what must or must not happen. That didn’t work out last week on election day.
Then there is the understandable if misguided assault on Steve Bannon. The President-elect has appointed him chief strategist. It was Bannon’s insight on going after alienated working class voters in rust belt states that put Trump on a path to victory when he was otherwise struggling. Bannon is the former chairman of Breitbart, America’s leading angry website for angry geeks who think the Christians need to get really angry with the Muslims and win an end of days battle that will settle the fate of humanity, or something, and here’s a picture of women posing with guns. Buy gold.
It is said, stated as fact in recent days, that Bannon is a white supremacist and an anti-semite. While Bannon has always struck me – from a distance – as a highly questionable individual, based on what his highly successful site publishes – the latter charge seems daft for a start. Even the most basic of checks can demonstrate that Bannon is a strong supporter of the state of Israel.
On the attribution of white supremacist views to Bannon, the problem seems to be that Breitbart has – in among its less inflammatory material – offered a clickbait platform to some very undesirable types, and in the process become admired by the US alt-right, where despicable views on race, women and religion are the currency. The charge against Bannon then is less straightforward than presented. He has given succour to people who hold those views, but seems not to hold them himself. Get the charge right, or feel free to just carry on with the exaggerated howl of rage that did so well on election day. Get even; don’t get mad.
Glenn Beck of all people put it well. If the charge against the Trumpkins is that they ignore the truth, then it is important not to play the same game. Beck is the hitherto angry talkshow host who has had a dramatic conversion. He is no Trump fan (which has brought him death threats) and he has become an impressive critic of the nativist, nationalist, so-called alt-right. But know your enemy and state only what can be established, he says. All else is propaganda and rabble-rousing.
There’s a bitter irony here, of course. Bannon ran Breitbart, and now his supporters are calling for accurate reporting of his views and less sensationalism. It’s a funny old world.
With quite a bit of what we read being rather jaundiced, I recommend reading the entire transcript of an interview with Bannon published this week by Buzzfeed. It takes us well beyond the excited accounts of Breitbart groupies and the awe-struck Faragists who hang out with him offering to bypass Theresa May, the Foreign Office and the Commons. That’s the Commons, where UKIP has only one seat. Sad, as Trump might say.
What emerges strongly is Bannon’s Catholicism; his intelligence; his critique of modern capitalism; and the troublingly apocalyptic terms in which he sees the world.