The self-destruction of Steve Bannon is a terrific story but not an important story. That is, for those of us who love politics for its Shakespearean revelation of character on the grand stage, it’s an amazing farewell-to-all-my-greatness moment. But if you are concerned about the threats to liberty at home and abroad, the prosperity of our fellow Americans and allies, and the positive developments — like fresh space exploration — that might emerge from a new American century, well, Steve don’t matter much. Or at all.
But Bannon’s fall, and the scandal-mongering book that helped it along — Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House — do underscore one thing of real importance: our mainstream journalists are genuinely awful. They will sell any narrative they can to keep from selling the one that seems increasingly likely to be true: Trump is smarter than they are and doing a better job than the last two presidents combined.
Consider this “bombshell” from the book. Bannon thinks Don Trump Jr.’s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer was “treasonous,” and that “the chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-fifth floor is zero.” It’s a fascinating comment, because it indicates that Bannon so miscalculated his power and political acumen that he thought he could knock down the central pillar of his prestige — Trump’s friendship — and survive with his career intact. But it has no factual or evidentiary weight. Bannon wasn’t at the meeting and didn’t even join the campaign until August 2016. So he’s just another guy with an opinion — and a guy whose opinions tend to be overblown and melodramatic at that.
Now listen to how Chuck Todd reported it on MSNBC in a tone I can only describe as one of prissy self-righteousness: “Welcome to a five alarm dumpster fire for the White House or shall we call it Bannon’s rebellion? The Russia investigation has been blown open in dramatic fashion. Not by the ‘fake news media,’ not by the ‘deep state Justice Department,’ but by Steve Bannon!” Stephanie Ruhle and political reporter Mark Murray also opined that Bannon’s remarks gave the Russia investigation “legitimacy.”
Why? Bannon wasn’t there. He wasn’t part of the campaign at the time. He has an opinion. So do I. How does any of this “blow open” anything besides Bannon’s piehole?
All of what I’ve seen of Fire and Fury so far seems more sound and fury, a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing. Donald Trump was so ignorant he didn’t know who John Boehner was, Wolff writes. It took me a fifteen-second Google search to prove that wasn’t true. Trump had spoken about Boehner frequently. He played golf with the guy! It’s an important anecdote meant to tell us something about the president of the United States and it’s utterly false. What kind of writer — what kind of publisher — doesn’t check that stuff?
Or consider this description from Wolff’s self-promotion piece for Hollywood Reporter: “Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of [Trump’s] repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he’d repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories — now it was within 10 minutes.”
We know this isn’t true. As recently as October, we saw Trump speak for 45 minutes off-the-cuff under press questioning. Over Christmas, he talked to the New York Times. He’s clearly all there. A big, outlandish character, no question, but no more outlandish than he was in the 1980s. Why should Wolff’s assertion get any sort of attention at all?
The nation’s journalists cover this obvious nonsense because otherwise, they’d have to enter what to them is uncharted territory: the truth.
If there’s anything substantial in Wolff’s tales of chaos in the early Trump White House, it shows nothing more than this: Those of us who thought the political neophyte Trump was unprepared to take office in January were correct, and Trump’s response — that he would learn in office and appoint the “best people” to help him — was equally correct.
But that would mean that Trump is practically smarter and more adept than the journalists who hate him and those journalists will accept any narrative other than that one. The White House is running more smoothly? Well, that’s John Kelly’s doing, not Trump’s. ISIS is defeated? Well, that’s Matthis’s work, not Trump’s. Great judicial appointments? Well, that’s the Federalist Society. Tax cuts? That’s Ryan and McConnell. Regulatory rollbacks? Well, that’s all those guys running the agencies. Trump is so busy tweeting and watching the Gorilla Channel, he just hasn’t had time to get in the way, that’s all.
We are watching our mainstream news media implode. They don’t just jump on any fake news that might make Trump look bad for the few moments before they’re forced to retract it. They’re now actually reporting their fantasies — fantasies in which Trump doesn’t keep making them look like the idiots they are.