Notorious White House adviser Steve Bannon is leaving the Trump administration. The New York Times reports that Trump is discussing how to get rid of him — though Bannon's camp argues he handed in his resignation on Aug. 7 (You can't fire me, I quit!).
No one can possibly predict with any certainty what precisely will happen in the ongoing train wreck that is Trump's failing presidency. But we can say with reasonable confidence that Bannon's departure changes nothing of consequence.
The corpulent publisher of the right-wing cesspit Breitbart News, Bannon was long viewed as the voice of right-wing populism within the administration. And indeed, he was known to favor higher taxes on the rich (especially "globalists"), regulating Facebook and Google like utilities, and more dovish foreign policy. Much of that policy would be dangerously popular — indeed, Bannon was rather groping towards the classic fascist formula of violent racism plus Keynesian economic policy.
Yet like everyone else in the Trump administration, Bannon is also staggeringly incompetent. This news comes one day after he phoned up The American Prospect's Bob Kuttner out of the blue to rant about various topics. Not only did Bannon apparently not understand that any such conversation is on the record unless previously agreed to otherwise, he called up the publisher of a known left-liberal opinion magazine which hates Bannon and everything he stands for. Astounding.
He wrecked himself just like Anthony Scaramucci did when he called The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. It is remarkable how two top-level officials in the Trump administration have now lost their jobs for the exact same reason — calling about the worst imaginable person.
That is probably why Bannon has not managed to convince Trump of any of his populist ideas, outside of a couple meaningless gestures. On the contrary, despite the fact that Trump largely ran on a Bannon-style campaign, once he got into office he turned 180 degrees and embraced the typical Republican agenda of massive cuts to taxes and social services. Promises to protect Medicaid were abandoned, and he helped Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in their (so far failed) attempt to throw tens of millions of people off their insurance.
Either Trump changed his mind on these questions, or more likely, Bannon's populism was sidelined through some combination of him being outmaneuvered by traditional Republicans and Trump's monumental stupidity. Going for things like big infrastructure projects — and trying thereby to split Democrats — would have been a bold and probably tactically wise move, but instead Trump pushed hard for stupendously unpopular upward wealth redistribution, and repeatedly faceplanted. Trump may be good at getting free media attention, but when it comes to political economy, he is a fool.
Meanwhile, it could not be more obvious that Trump is not getting his bigotry from Bannon. Trump's "both sides" legitimation of white supremacy earlier this week was unscripted — and according to aides, a mere articulation of stuff the president is constantly saying in private. What else can we expect from a man who demanded the death penalty for black children wrongfully convicted of rape, or who started his career with a racist slur of the country's first black president?
So America is liable to continue to get all the bad things about both Trump and the Republican Party, without so much as a scrap of Bannon's economic populism. It'll be ever-more blatant white supremacy, a rotting federal bureaucracy, giant tax cuts for the rich, deliberate sandbagging of ObamaCare, and some other incompetent chump who joins the administration and is fired after a month or so.
Ain't it grand having a real business expert in the White House?