Stages in the acceptance of Bannonism

JBS Haldane wrote

“The four stages of acceptance:
1. This is worthless nonsense.
2. This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view.
3. This is true, but quite unimportant.
4. I always said so.”

(Review of The Truth About Death, in: Journal of Genetics 1963, Vol. 58, p.464)”

I have noticed that the arguments of Steve Bannon are gaining traction in broader and more polite circles. Essentially, Bannon claims that the working class of the United States had been abandoned by governments of the right and the left, and that while globalization and its attendant philosophy of globalism have benefitted the top 1%, the people who actually compose the United States, fight its wars,and serve in its factories and police forces, have been abandoned to excessive immigration, held up for ridicule as “white”, “male” and old, and have been the subjects of an opiod crisis that, if it had occurred in a sexual or coloured minority, would have been treated as a second AIDS crisis.

The average age of death of American whites was declining: people are dying younger. As the study hyperlinked above wrote:

“The unfavorable recent trends in premature death rate among non-Hispanic Whites outside large urban areas were primarily caused by self-destructive health behaviors likely related to underlying social and economic factors in these communities.”

Bannon calls the policies and the situation he opposes the product of Davos man.

Steven Harper has taken up the same message in his latest book, Right Here, Right Now, excerpted here. Harper is a much more respectable figure than Bannon, and the fact that the same arguments are being propagated by both men is a sign that Bannon’s analysis is seeping through the defences into higher plateaux of acceptance. As Harper writes:

Trump, Brexit, and the European populist movements are exposing a fault line in modern Western societies. The division is between, as David Goodhart describes: those who live “anywhere” and those who live “somewhere.” The rise of globalization in the past quarter-century has transformed an element of the population. Segments of urban and university-educated professionals have become genuinely globally oriented in their careers and personal lives.


Harper cleverly speaks of the gap between the ‘anywheres’ and the ‘somewheres’: those who might work anywhere on the planet and those who could not work outside the country of their birth.

Imagine yourself as someone who works for an international consulting firm or in a globally focused academic career. You can wake up in New York, London, or Singapore and feel at home. You may rent or even own regular accommodation in all of these places. Your work is not subjected to import competition or threat of technological dislocation. You may attend (or aspire to attend) the Davos conference. You probably read The Economist and, like Thomas Friedman, believe that the world really is flat. Your spouse or partner has a similar professional background, although he or she is from somewhere else in the world. You are motivated by climate change and suspicious of religion. You are unequivocally pro–free trade and support high levels of immigration. Your values can broadly be described as “cosmopolitan.”

Such cosmopolitans, or “Anywheres,” or just plain “globalists” have an increasingly weak attachment to the nation-state. Their professional, personal, and even familial relationships are increasingly with people like themselves from a range of countries. 

Harper correctly predicts that populist movements will only grow. “My diagnosis is simple: the populist trend will not stop until the issues driving it are being effectively addressed.”

Amen. Yet the resistance to realization is extremely powerful. This brings me to the second theme of this essay, that the Democrats are still at stage one: “This is all worthless nonsense”.

I continue to be amazed and not a little disturbed by the degree of heat, denial, snobbery, and plain mendacity in the reaction of the bien-pensants to what is going on. For them, it appears to be something about Trump. Bad boy! Rude man! Going into the kitchen and breaking dishes. Fighting with NATO allies. Being too cozy with Putin (for which there is no evidence whatever). I can understand why Trump is not one’s cup of tea, but I have greater difficulty understanding why the opposition to him is so slow to understand why he came to power. I do not mean the technical reasons of campaigning and messaging; I mean the underlying economic and social malaise to which his policies were appearing to be remedies.

The Democrats have been in complete denial that they even lost the election. The last time this happened, during Bush Junior,  they withdrew into The West Wing, where a Democratic President Jeb Bartlett ruled an imaginary United States as an all-wise avatar of decency and enlightenment. This time they have no West Wing to occupy their minds. Now they find themselves in the wrestling ring with a mad orange-haired troll in a weird suit who keeps slamming them into the floor and throwing them against the ropes, while the mob howls for more.

The Democrats will be equally shocked when they lose the midterms. I fail to see is any sign that they have a capacity to understand and adapt to what has hit them. They seem to prefer the fictional world of a Putin-Facebook- targeted ad campaign that deprived them of their rightful place as the permanent government of the United States. On the face of it, the claim is absurd: that a few hundred thousand dollars, if that much, of targeted Facebook ads could overcome the billion or two that Hillary Clinton spent on her campaign, the bad messaging, the self-regard, the bad campaigning, and the complete inability to see that the world she thought existed, did not.

Drowning men clutch straws, we are told. I do not see the Democrats recovering until they come to grip with why they lost.  Right now, they are both denying that they lost and asserting that that any argument that they lost for a reason is worthless rubbish.