Stephen Bannon’s ouster from the White House brought the sort of speculation we’ve heard a number of times before: Is the Trump administration stable enough to continue functioning? Core members are in and out at the president’s whim, staff members lie, cheat and steal for a slim personal advantage and the work atmosphere is more “Game of Thrones” than “The West Wing.”
I am inclined to believe that Bannon’s removal will benefit the stability of the Trump administration and the country overall. The “deep state” has outlasted its primary enemy and will be able to properly resume its work: actually running the country.
Removing Trump’s advisers is not a fix because the ultimate source of instability in the White House isn’t Bannon, Reince Priebus or Michael Flynn — it’s Trump himself. That said, removing Bannon removes one of the last lucid powers in the West Wing, one with the attention span and future vision to carry out effective — albeit disastrous — change. I see this as enabling the “deep state” to further restrain the president.
The way we consume political news in this country requires a core narrative of dynamic characters — the beleaguered chief of staff, the malevolent chief strategist, the strategically patient vice president — and as a result, we often see their actions as much more consequential than they really are. Despite all that has happened, Congress still functions. The judiciary still functions. And — though it has some trouble with Trump — the executive branch still functions.
Our government was designed to be slow-moving and cumbersome — to be a massive shipping barge, not a skip. Trump and his companions may loot what they can while they’re in power, and the man himself may do some cultural damage in covering for white nationalists, but the captain cannot sink his ship without the help of his crew.
When Trump axed U.S. support for the Paris climate accord, lower-level executives — governors and mayors — contradicted him and offered their continued support. French President Emmanuel Macron’s own ambitions certainly played a large part in keeping the accord together, but I think these lower-level promises also played a significant role. A child-king’s advisers have the real power. Their deals are the ones that succeed and their promises are the ones that are upheld.
A similar dynamic is playing out in the United States, as states and cities conduct pseudo-foreign policy. There is also the issue of political donors when we’re discussing the Americans with legitimate access to power. Trump was not all that popular when it came to campaign contributions, and “alt-right” figures modeled in his image are likely to fare even worse. U.S. elections depend heavily on access to funds, especially when we step back from the presidency and consider lower-level elections.
Finally, I’d like to address the delusion that Bannon and company will be more powerful now that they “have (their) hands back on (their) weapons.” As Cersei Lannister from “Game of Thrones” put it, “power is power.” Money, knowledge and speech are all ancillary to the cold reality that, once installed in office or position, power rests with the politician. Breitbart propaganda, white nationalist rallies and thinly veiled “free speech” protests are all legitimate dangers, but when a mayor says the statues are coming down, they come down. When a governor says to make the racists disperse, the police disperse them.
The delusion that a media campaign against the government will be effective thrives on the same desperation that brought the “alt-right” to prominence in the first place: a desire to be the victims, even when all evidence is to the contrary; a desire to be the underdogs, even when they have significant institutional power. The “alt-right” is, as a result, condemned to live in a perpetual struggle: When you are defined entirely by powerlessness, power destroys you.
I don’t want to gloss over the legitimate problems posed by Trump’s position and the damage he can do. We have more than three years left with an executive who is unwilling to learn, at the mercy of his emotions and completely immune to nuance. I do, however, want to push back on the frantic terror that we will imminently be swallowed up by the racists, once again ascendant and ready to implement their ideas as real policy. Only power is power, and they are incapable of wielding it.
Hank Minor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.