IS DONALD TRUMP JUST A PAWN IN STEVE BANNON’S GAME?

With his man in the White House, the architect of Trumpism takes a victory lap around the media.

The first week of Donald Trump’s presidency has been head-spinning, even for already whiplashed journalists. Since taking the oath of office, Trump has bemoaned his media coverage before a flummoxed C.I.A., dispatched his press secretary to the White House briefing room to lie about the size of his inauguration crowd, and sent Kellyanne Conway out on the morning-show circuit to redefine those lies as “alternative facts.” Despite signing executive orders appeasing his base and fulfilling campaign promises, he remained fixated on the election he already won, relitigating his campaign strategy in meetings with Congress and reportedly telling lawmakers he believed 3 million to 5 million votes had been cast illegally for his opponent, costing him the popular vote. In an interview Wednesday with ABC’s David Muir, he doubled down again and again on each debunked detail—his crowd size, the alleged mass voter fraud, even the response to his C.I.A. speech, which multiple government officials suggested was poorly received. “I got a standing ovation,” he told Muir. “In fact, they said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl and they said it was equal.”

The constant stream of mistruths and misdirection has left the media unmoored, hemorrhaging trust with the American public even as it finds its footing holding Trump to account. Trump’s approval ratings are plummeting, too, with only 36 percent of voters approving of the way the president has handled his first week.

It is, in other words, the perfect toxic brew for Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart executive turned White House strategist who has fueled Trump’s firefight with the media, discrediting and undermining the mainstream voices opposed to his anti-immigrant, anti-trade agenda. “The media should be embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while,” he explained in an interview with *The New York Times’s * Michael Grynbaum, published Thursday, as he gloated about his newfound power and the media’s failure to see Trump coming. “I want you to quote this,” Bannon continued. “The media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”

With Trump in the White House, Bannon has found himself emboldened in a way that he could only dream of several months ago, when he stepped away from his “alt-right” media empire to join the struggling Trump campaign as its chief executive. Since taking the oath of office, Trump has mostly stayed close to Bannon’s agenda—delivering an inaugural address written in part by Bannon himself that spoke gloomily of “American carnage” and shutting the nation off from the rest of the world in order to make it great again. He has signed executive orders, also written by Bannon, directing the federal government to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, shut out refugees, increase deportations, and begin the repeal of Obamacare.

TRUMP IS A “BLUNT INSTRUMENT FOR US,” BANNON TOLD VANITY FAIR LAST SUMMER. “I DON’T KNOW WHETHER HE REALLY GETS IT OR NOT.”

None of it would have been possible had Trump not made an enemy of the media, sowing mistrust in the army of journalists tut-tutting his apocalyptic diatribes, his excoriation of immigrants, his fiery denunciations of the consensus on free trade. “You’re the opposition party,” Bannon said repeatedly in his interview with the Times, which the paper said he requested to defend Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who was upbraided by the media this week for lying to the press. “We think that’s a badge of honor. ‘Questioning [Spicer’s] integrity’—are you kidding me?”

It’s just one piece of Bannon’s ideological game of chess, rewiring the media landscape to clear the path for a radical reimagining of conservative politics in line with his own nationalist agenda. The president himself, Bannon has admitted in the past, is just one piece of the puzzle. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon told Ken Stern for Vanity Fair last summer. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.”

More than anyone else in his inner circle, Bannon has a good reason to use his boss. Sure, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, now has an inconceivably large platform as a 36-year-old political novice. Conway, who has a longer history in politics, can probably parlay her White House gig into whatever gig she so chooses next, assuming the ship doesn’t go down in flames while she is still on board. But Bannon, who jokingly refers to himself as “Darth Vader,” is perhaps alone in viewing the Trump administration as a means to a specific philosophical end.

This strategy so far has worked for Bannon, either because Trump understands he needs him or hasn’t caught wind of the fact that he might be being played. The reason why Kushner rose to prominence so quickly, after all, is the fact that Trump knows where his loyalty lies, and that is squarely behind him. If Trump feels that Bannon’s own motives are setting him up to lose, then it’s anyone’s bet as to how topsy-turvy this West Wing could get.

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/01/is-donald-trump-a-pawn-in-steve-bannons-game

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