On Friday, Hollywood Reporter’s Michael Wolff released an exclusive story about new White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The story shouldn’t make conservatives particularly comfortable about Bannon’s role in the administration. In it, Wolff portrays Bannon as the intellectual soul behind Trumpism. And Bannon speaks that way. He sees himself as a dark arts guru, a sort of evil genius manipulating the political system: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.” He sees himself as Trump’s brain: “I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.”
But more importantly, he sees himself as the lead figure in ushering out the era of constitutional conservatism and ushering in the era of far-right nationalist populism, as I’ve warned in this space before:
I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist. The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue is now about Americans looking to not get f***ed over. If we deliver, we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years. That’s what the Democrats missed. They were talking to these people with companies with a $9 billion market cap employing nine people. It’s not reality. They lost sight of what the world is about.
Effectively, this means raising tariffs, subsidizing American businesses, and shutting down as much immigration as possible. Which, of course, would end up destroying jobs. But at least it would be “nationalist.” Economic nationalism has a long and inglorious history, and is nearly inseparable from big government interventionism. Bannon wants to embrace that legacy and throw away classical liberalism, the most powerful force for human freedom and prosperity in history, in the process.
And by the way, he’s happy to make common cause with his friends on the alt-right to do it.
Like [Andrew] Jackson's populism, we're going to build an entirely new political movement. It's everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I'm the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it's the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Ship yards, iron works, get them all jacked up. We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks. It will be as exciting as the 1930s, greater than the Reagan revolution — conservatives, plus populists, in an economic nationalist movement.
This is historically inaccurate – and again, economically and constitutionally illiterate. Jacksonian populism wasn’t based on federal overreach. It was based on killing federal government intervention in the economy and reverting such spending back to the states. Trillion dollar infrastructure plans have been tried before, and they’ve failed before. The 1930s, for those who missed it, were not an exciting time – they were a time of serious economic deprivation, accompanied by skyrocketing taxes and spending, and massive government works projects that sucked all momentum out of the economy to redirect it to federal priorities. "We're just going to throw it up against the wall and see if it sticks" could come right from FDR's failed playbook.
Bannon’s certainly right that “conservatives are going to go crazy.” They should. If Hillary proposed anything of this nature, Republicans would lose their minds. This is Democrat economics, minus the tax increases – which, in the end, will be necessary to pay off the debt all of this incurs.
We’ll find out if conservatives are indeed willing to stand up to Bannon’s Trumpism. If not, the fear that constitutional liberalism will go out of business in favor of big-spending, isolationist European-style nationalism was well-founded.