May 3, 2017


An Anonymous White House Official (Who Is Totally Steve Bannon) : How to tell who's leaking what in the Trump administration. (Katy Waldman, 5/02/17, Slate)

Good news, beginners: A Bannon quote is pretty easy to spot. When he's on the record, Trump's bellicose chief strategist speaks in jargon befitting a student of ancient martial historians and fascist philosophers. He has vowed to fight for "the deconstruction of the administrative state." He has invoked "Judeo-Christian values" as the answer to a "metastasizing" "Islamic fascist" movement.

When Trump removed Bannon from the National Security Council in early April, Rosie Gray at the Atlantic reported that "a senior White House official cast the move as not a demotion for Bannon," but as a strategic rearrangement of key pieces on the administration's chess board. Bannon's role on the committee, this source continued, was to "de-operationalize" the changes wrought by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. "Job done," the source told Gray.

Sussing out that this "senior White House official" was Bannon himself would have been easy even if the Washington Post hadn't lifted the veil of anonymity hours later. One tell was that the quote advanced a narrative favorable to Bannon, a guy who is not, shall we say, well-liked. The bigger signal was the source's use of a conspiratorial, faux-intellectual, mostly nonsensical word. Reince Priebus has never de-operationalized anything in his life.

Likewise, consider the line "You'll see the setting of the predicate," uttered anonymously to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza before the House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing on Russian intervention in the election. The statement is confusing and arcane as a piece of rhetoric. It also presumes there's some kind of deep tactical framework for what should be a straightforward procedure. That sounds a lot like Bannon.

My colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley also pegs the chief strategist, a former investment banker with ties to the city of stars, as a font of "corny Hollywood pitch language." Mathis-Lilley pointed me to the below quote from a New Yorker article on a brewing showdown between Congress and the White House:

"Next week is going to have quite high drama," a top White House official, who sounded excited by the coming clash, told me. "It's going to be action-packed. This one is not getting as much attention, but, trust me, it's going to be the battle of the titans. And the great irony here is that the call for the government shutdown will come on--guess what?--the hundredth day. If you pitched this in a studio, they would say, 'Get out of here, it's too ridiculous.' This is going to be a big one."

The gleeful pugnacity, the instinct for theater, the tendency to see the world in terms of grand contests, the references to film studios, the fact that this would make for a very bad movie--this is pure Bannon. The alternate theory, that the quote sprang from Trump himself, is undermined by its general coherence, its quasi-erudite titan metaphor, and the deployment of the word irony, which may not exist in Trump's vocabulary.

Posted by at May 3, 2017 5:49 AM