A Bad Bargain

Joshua Green, Devil’s Bargain. Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising, Penguin Books 2017, republished with a new preface 2018

Joshua Green’s book has been somewhat overshadowed by the publication of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury (Read more) but it adds significantly to Wolff’s account and corrects it at some important points. It tells in fascinating detail the story of bad bargain the American people accepted when they elected Trump.

Green, shows, in particular, how doggedly Trump had been pursuing the project of a presidential campaign. Over long years he had “developed many of the themes that became hallmarks of the eventual campaign – everything from the evils of Chinese currency manipulation to the economic damage that NAFTA inflicted on a broad swath of U. S. workers.” (p. 41) When Trump and Bannon finally met they discovered that “both believed, for instance, that the United States was constantly victimized in foreign trade deals.” (p. 93)

Green, whose book is based on extensive interviews with Bannon himself and his associates as well as with others in Trump’s circle, gives much credit to Bannon for Trump’s victory. He writes that “Trump wouldn’t be president if it weren’t for Bannon. Together their power and reach gave them strength and influence far beyond what either could have achieved on his own.” (p. 22) In a word, Bannon provided for Trump his own “hard-right nationalist politics” and “Trump sold this brand of nationalism with the same all-out conviction he brought to selling his own name. Whether he actually believed in it, he recognized that it was the key to closing the biggest deal of his life.” (p. xxix) It was Bannon, Green argues, who “supplied Trump with a fully formed, internally coherent worldview that accommodated Trump’s own feelings about trade and foreign threats, what Trump eventually dubbed ‘America First’ nationalism.” (p. 46) After their break, Trump sought, of course, to minimize the importance of Bannon for his presidential campaign. “Steve had very little to do with our historical victory,” he declared. (p. xxi)

Given Green’s premise of the importance of Bannon to Trump, it is obvious why he focuses so intensely on Bannon and his worldview — even more so than on Trump. Bannon is, in his eyes, clearly the more complex and more interesting character. Like Michael Wolff after him, Green highlights the volatility of Bannon’s career which took him from serving for seven years in the navy to Goldman Sachs as a banker, Hollywood and movie-making, two years spent on an anti-Clinton crusade, editor of Breitbart News and finally presidential adviser. Both authors also acknowledge the importance of Bannon’s Irish Catholic working-class background. But there are some differences in the two accounts. Green’s Bannon is more successful than Wolff’s and his development is more coherent. Green also makes much of Bannon’s long-standing preoccupation with Hillary Clinton and the ways he sought to undermine her.


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