President Trump, Steve Bannon And The Legacy Of 1968

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White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at the White House June 1, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
White House chief strategist Steve Bannon at the White House June 1, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

This week on Freak Out And Carry On, Ron Suskind and Heather Cox Richardson talk with Conor Friedersdorf, staff writer at The Atlantic, about the public feud between Steve Bannon and President Trump and they give a political forecast for 2018. They also explore parallels between today and the unrest of 1968.


Ron Suskind: Heather, 2018 has just started and--why am i still surprised? I'm not--President Donald Trump is sowing chaos and confusion. On Tuesday he said, on Twitter, that his nuclear button is bigger than Kim Jong-Un's. It's always about size with this guy! He also called for the Justice Department to jail Hillary Clinton's former top aide Huma Abedin and, possibly, former FBI Director James Comey. And he announced he'll be presenting "the most is honest and corrupt media awards." I'm really hoping I get nominated. Again, that was Tuesday. On Wednesday, in response to his former campaign manager and chief strategist Steve Bannon using the word "treasonous" to describe the infamous 2016 Trump Tower a meeting between Don Jr., Jared Kushner and the Russians. President Trump released an angry "Dear Steve" letter. And, again, I quote "Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired he lost his job. He lost his mind." Audience, you cannot see us here in the studio but let me describe our faces: jaws, floor. Now is this comedy? Is this tragedy? Is this America? And why is it impossible to look away from this screaming, skidding car wreck called the government of the United States? Donald Trump knows how to start the new year. Or should I say the new season of his reality show? Heather, what does the historian have to say about the year just begun?

Heather Cox Richardson: Well, it's significant that it is a new year. I think the fact that you're looking at it like a new season is significant not only to the president, who of course thinks in terms of TV, but also to America. In 2017, it seemed to me that people were against the ropes, not knowing what was going to happen. Things came at us from the very first week of the Trump presidency with the first travel ban. We were constantly reeling and now people are organized, they're resisting, they've got plans, they're pushing back against this administration. And I think that the president is very aware of that and he's coming out swinging because he feels like he's on the ropes. He feels like he's in danger and he's panicking. And when he see somebody like Steve Bannon coming down and breathing down his neck, he's nervous. And I think we are looking at a new America in 2018. And it's a new America that's not necessarily one that is going to get along terribly well with the current president.

Conor Friedersdorf: It is quite a divorce and it's difficult to know what to make of it. It's difficult to know whether Steve Bannon represents a significant constituency in American life. That is say a white nationalist or economically and politically isolationist. Or is Trumpism just inseparable from Trump himself? If Trump were to step down from office tomorrow or if he were to lose in 2020 is that the end of this moment and no one else without his celebrity could possibly put together his coalition again? And I don't know the answer to that.

Heather Cox Richardson: Is this what we're looking at then, the potential disruption of the Trump coalition? Trump tries so hard to keep his base behind him and yet his base was really formed largely out of places like Breitbart. So is this the moment where we're looking at a disintegration of that that coalition?

Conor Friedersdorf: I really think that it depends on a few factors. One, is Trump's base going to divorce him if he doesn't do anything on immigration? If he doesn't build a wall? If he allows DACA people to stay in the United States? What's the relationship between immigration and Trump's popularity? Another big question is: are more traditional Republicans and conservatives going to rally around Trump if he keeps giving them most of what they want? So far he's governed at least in domestic policy in a way that isn't so different from how say a Rick Perry or Governor Jeb Bush might have. Not his rhetoric but the actual, you know, signing a tax cut and that sort of thing. And so will the typical National Review readers come around to Trump if he keeps speaking like a lunatic but governing like a member of the GOP establishment that he purports to hate?

Ron Suskind: I guess the question is, will Trump, despite his anger and his impulse, will he see this as opportunity to jettison the Steve Bannons ostensibly of the party and to essentially consolidate gains with more traditional conservatives, giving them what they wanted?

Conor Friedersdorf: Well Steve Bannon has played his hand rather weakly I think by getting behind a Senate candidate, Roy Moore, that lost in Alabama and also having Breitbart associate with this challenger to Paul Ryan who started doing right podcasts and making anti-Semitic comments. You could imagine a kind of different trajectory where Steve Bannon would have found a little bit stronger candidates to run in a sort of Pat Buchanan-fashion. But so it's all muddied by the fact that Bannon picked just the most deplorable--to use the kind of lingo of our time--candidates that he could possibly associate himself with. The question that seems most fascinating to me going forward is what becomes of Steve Bannon. Does he stay at Breitbart, leading one of the most popular, if not the most trafficked, website on the American Right right now. He has certainly alienated the kind of National Review wing of movement conservatism. Now he's alienated Donald Trump. And I'm fascinated to see what becomes of Breitbart in the next six months to a year and whether Bannon is still there and what his utility is to the site.

The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those of the participants and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.

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Katherine Brewer Managing Producer, Podcasts & New Programs
Katherine Brewer is coordinating producer of podcasts and new programs at WBUR.



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