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By Jason Michael
Behind every great man there is an even greater woman, or so the proverb goes. In real politics however that greater woman is seldom a woman, but an adviser who keeps to the shadows – power never likes to be obvious. Power is just friendly advice.
As harsh and unkind as it is to say, at some point we have to be honest and admit that Donald Trump isn’t the sharpest knife in the box. We all know it. Sure even his supporters and closest aides have come to accept that Donald Trump is a dullard. He didn’t develop campaign strategy, he didn’t write his own speeches, and we now know that he didn’t even come up with the controversial policies he ran on. All of this was planned and produced before Trump even got on-board the movement we have come to identify as Trumpism, and it was spooned to him over the course of the campaign. Donald was the missile this package had been waiting for, but he was not and is not the payload.
So who is behind the Trump administration? Well, you’d be wrong if you think it is Steve Bannon. You would be a million miles off because Bannon is the obvious éminence grise to Trump’s Louis XIII, and power doesn’t do obvious; hence the “grey” – the shady – nature of a powerful hidden adviser to the throne. Steve Bannon is without doubt intelligent, he is a white nationalist and a confirmed racist, but – as the former head of Breitbart News – his rise to power, with or without Trump, was never a given. Let’s make no mistake about it; Steve Bannon is an important cog in the wheel. He provided the alt-right with the platform it needed to emerge from relative obscurity into the mainstream, giving a cohesive ideological narrative to what had heretofore been a disparate mass of disconnected American voters – united in little more than their shared sense of frustration and disillusionment.
Neo-fascists the likes of Bannon, Sean Spicer, and the lad who missed the bus – Richard Spencer – are flattered by the trappings of brute authoritarian power. This is the stuff that gets them off. This is also the very stuff that betrays their lack of actual power. Trump, complete with the animalistic instincts of a psychopath, understands that these people need to be rewarded suitably for their service and loyalty, and a box of chocolates just won’t do. Bannon of course wants his place on the National Security Council – of course he does – but he hasn’t the foggiest notion what he’s doing there. He hasn’t the experience or the skills. He’s nothing more than a bum on a seat. Yes, it’s worrying and dangerous, but we have to think of the shopping mall security guard who is happy to take a pay cut in exchange for a sexier job title and a paramilitary style uniform upgrade when we think of Bannon on the Security Council. That’s his reward, and he’s as happy as a pig in shit.
When it comes to the grey eminence behind Trump we have to pay closer attention to the vision of Trumpism. By its nature real hegemonic power looks to the future; it never stops strategising its own preservation, and it does this primarily in the construction of a narrative of threat in which only the powerholder can offer salvation. McCarthyism and neoliberalism did exactly this in their own struggles to shore power against the largely fictive threats of global Communism and radical terrorism. When people accept the narrative of threat they consent to the power of the salvific hegemon, and so the relationship of the dominant and the dominated is created – this is power.
So where was this narrative of threat in the Trump campaign? It began when Donald Trump addressed the Republican National Convention; when he presented his listeners with a dark and deeply dystopian vision of America. This message of crime, poverty, and industrial decline – his vision of “American carnage” – became the centrepiece of Trumps threat narrative; interwoven with Islamist terrorists and Mexican rapists, and it echoed in all his speeches all the way to his inauguration.
Along with this came a vocabulary never before used by Donald Trump: “Bleed,” “carnage,” “subsidized,” “trapped,” “unstoppable,” “Islamic,” “overseas…” – a lexicon of despair and hopelessness. The messianic solution to this bleak end-of-days landscape was a new era of fortified American isolationism behind a wall, and the only outward force was that of total war directed towards the absolute annihilation of ISIS:
We must abandon the failed policy of nation building and regime change that Hillary Clinton pushed in Iraq, Libya, Egypt and Syria. Instead, we must work with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping out Islamic terror.
– Donald Trump, RNC, July 2016
In framing this great existential battle against the threat of Muslim immigration Trump added that this must include “working with our greatest ally in the region – the State of Israel.” Trump didn’t write this speech, Stephen Miller did – the same Stephen Miller behind Trumps unconditional support for Israel and his promise to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Here is a proper vision, one that has been singularly focused since 1948, and one that has never been shy in interfering in the US’ democracy to achieve its own objectives.
In this Miller has courted a certain fraction of America’s extreme Evangelical Christian right, a courtship that since his days at Duke won him the friendship of the emerging alt-right. While antisemitism is still real, Zionism – as a neo-colonial ideology – has more in common with the white supremacist right and the colonial statist Christian fundamentalist pro-Israel right than we might be comfortable to admit. These are all permutations of the racial supremacy politics of Manifest Destiny – a white Christian nation for a white Christian people, a Jewish state for an ethnic Jewish people; the ideology of conquest and settlement. It runs to the heart of the gun wielding right, be that in the right to bear arms or the right of a nation to exist atop the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and an illegal settlement agenda supported by US-funded military hardware.
Both share the same quasi religio-political worldview – to the Christian Zionist it is a return of the Jews to Israel to hasten Armageddon and to the Jewish Zionist it is the expansion of Israel beyond the borders it refuses to define into Eretz Israel; what it has, what it occupies illegally, and more. So much gives them common cause, and Zionists have never been afraid of using the thinly veiled antisemitism of Christian Zionism to further their own objectives – they are the useful idiots, and getting them into the White House is a coup for the ambitions of an Israeli Prime Minister who is already on record saying that he has the US wrapped around his finger.
Donald Trump was not the natural choice for this play. That was Mike Pence, but everyone knew that Trump had the necessary mix of dumbness and charisma to get their man to Washington. At every step along the way, from before Trump arrived on the scene, there was Stephen Miller – close friend and associate of Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon – with the perfect connections to Netanyahu and to the politically active and militant American Christian right. Always just out of sight but always at the wheel, always with access, and always behind the thrust and drive and wording of the speeches. Stephen Miller – the man who knew how to sell Trump to AIPAC – is the power behind the throne, and we have to now ask if Benyamin Netanyahu is behind him.