One of the most difficult and daunting things about chronicling the early, traumatic days of the Trump presidency is trying to decide how much alarmism is acceptable and necessary and how much really is hyperbole. It feels wrong to warn of the worst case scenario in just about every situation, since that’s not our usual setting around here — we’re typically pretty pragmatic and realistic — but Trump has already proven himself to be a living, breathing worst case scenario. He’s unhinged, demagogic, and constitutionally incapable of telling the truth. As GQ wrote last week, we’ve quickly run out of ways to say that he’s “a dangerous, delusional lunatic.” In just ten days, through a series of executive orders, he’s moved toward not simply rolling back decades of social progress but sincerely undoing what the United States of America has stood for for decades into centuries.
But the reality is that, because Trump is a lazy incompetent whose primary interest is still himself — his crowd sizes, TV coverage, fear of stairs, petty feuds with his detractors — there’s plenty of room to control him. And that’s exactly what Steve Bannon is doing.
It’s shocking to think about, really: One of most powerful people within the United States government right now, the man who has the ear and the leash of the buffoonish Trump, is a white supremacist, an anti-semite and apparent holocaust denier, and a man with no government experience whose previous job was running the honest-to-Christ sewer of the internet, Breitbart.com. Bannon is so essential to Trump that he managed to weasel his way into, unprecedentedly, a full-time appointment to the National Security Council, greatly diminishing the director of national intelligence and the joint chiefs, people who, you know, actually know something about national security. The Trump White House’s stated reason for the move is that Trump needs Bannon to help him make decisions, a thought which, given what the National Security Council does, should terrify the crap out of every man, woman, and child in this country.
So, yeah, in one hell of a power grab, you’ve now got a guy who is exerting a startling amount of authority — this is the person, after all, who authored most of Trump’s recent, draconian executive orders — as he attempts to remake the United States in the image he sees fit. And make no mistake: that image is one of white nationalism, basically Nazi-light, with the “light” part being somewhat questionable. This is what he wants and he’s pushing Trump to crush any and all dissent standing against it. For years we told ourselves it couldn’t happen here and for years we were warned by people who lived through the rise of the ultra-right in foreign lands that that’s what they once believed, too. For years we consoled ourselves with platitudes about the greatness and supposed cold-steel solvency of our American democracy, while the truth was always that it was as delicate as gossamer. For years we believed we were immune to the bitter angels of our nature, that our fundamental decency and the checks and balances intrinsic to our government would always ensure that good triumphed over evil. But we were wrong. We were so, so wrong.
The reality is that Steve Bannon has in his hands the same bumbling idiot Vladimir Putin does, a man who arrogantly thinks he’s brilliant when he’s actually a moron, making him a kind of blank canvas upon which to paint America as a Hieronymus Bosch tableau of chaos and suffering. Bannon is a monster, and one who can’t be dragged kicking and screaming from the White House — the people’s house — soon enough. How this will happen and whether it will be in time to stop him and his lying, thieving ilk from plunging this country into a dystopian future, who knows. It’s already becoming apparent that Bannon, through Trump, may be testing the waters to see how far out of the picture he can push our judiciary, the one thing that stands between us and Trump’s illegal dictatorial whims. Again, it’s not melodramatic scaremongering to say that we’re staring down the barrel of a national emergency here. Within just the span of a week, Trump and Bannon have sought to change the very DNA of America. They cannot be allowed to succeed.
What that means for each of us, well, it’s tough to say. But one thing should be clear by now: When it comes to sounding the alarm about the perilous impact of what Trump, Bannon and the lot of them are doing and will continue to do, hyperbole may very well be impossible.