Arts and Culture

A Hellish Bargain

By Michael Drohan

Review of book: Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency by Joshua Green, 2017.

Green’s book relives the events that catapulted Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States on November 8, 2016. In doing so, the book outlines the crucial role played by Steve Bannon and Breitbart News in his victory. Although Green does not state it, we might say that Bannon was the evil genius behind the victory. For years Breitbart News had been peddling the principal ideological planks on which the Trump campaign was based, namely hostility to immigrants – especially black and latinx, Islamophobia and America-first nationalism.

For those unfamiliar with Breitbart News, it is an online radio news program founded by Andrew Breitbart. Breitbart had a fixation on race, crime, immigration, radical Islam and the so-called excesses of political correctness. After Breitbart’s early death in 2012, age 45, Bannon took the helm at Breitbart News.

According to Green, an analysis of Trump’s twitter feed conducted after the election showed Breitbart was far and away Trump’s primary source of news. Bannon was also imbued with a deep hatred of Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill and Breitbart initiated the slogan “lock her up” in regard to Ms. Clinton.

The book reviews the long history of Trump’s run for the Presidency in all its ugliness. Part of this history was Trump’s crusade against Barack Obama in his “birther campaign,” in which Trump contested whether Obama was in truth born in the United States and challenged him to produce his birth certificate. His long history of racial animus is also detailed, including his campaign to have the Central Park five executed for their alleged rape of a jogger in the 1990s. It turned out that the youths were exonerated and the allegations withdrawn.

The other part of Trump’s record on race was the reputation he garnered from his reality TV show on NBC, “The Apprentice”. Trump’s ratings among African-Americans and Latinos for this show were highly favorable, a factor which no doubt contributed to his winning the Presidential election.

In the first primary election debate in Cleveland, Ohio, the co-host of the event was Megyn Kelly of Fox News. To say the least, Kelly was not in Trump’s corner and she went straight for Trump as the debate began. “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ’slobs’ and ‘disgusting animals,’” she declared and then asked him: “Does that sound like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?” Trump appeared flummoxed and lamely retorted in self-defense, “Only Rosie O’Donnell.” Green details in the book the entire exchange, as Kelly kept the pressure on Trump. Despite Kelly being absolutely accurate on all the details she laid out, the audience was astonishingly with Trump, cheering and oohing at his provocations. In this, as in the following debates, Trump lashed out at the other contestants with a hail of insults. The audience seemed to love it, which says a lot about the current state of US political culture.

Breitbart News had for years focused its hatred and animus on Hillary Clinton and her husband Bill. In 2015, a colleague of Steve Bannon’s, Peter Schweizer, published a book entitled Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Clinton Rich. Breitbart News used the book to lacerate Clinton with accusations of widespread corruption and money grasping. Her half million dollar fees for speeches to Goldman Sachs and other institutions helped build an image of Clinton as a politician alienated from the concerns of blue collar workers and most of the population. This image, together with the private server Hillary used as Secretary of State under Obama and the Benghazi disaster, was the portrait that Bannon and Breitbart fed into the Trump campaign.

On October 7, 2016, the infamous Access Hollywood Tapes were revealed, in which Trump boasted to Billy Bush that he grabbed women by their genitals and that he could do such things because he was famous. Given accepted civil society norms, one might have expected this revelation to be the death knell of the Trump campaign going into the Presidential debates with Hillary Clinton. The Bannon evil genius, however, turned defeat into victory. His plan, which he brought to fruition, was to recruit four women who had accused Bill Clinton of raping them and put them in the front row to throw Hillary off her game. Incredibly, Trump turned the tables on Clinton, accusing her of being an enabler of an adulterous husband.

Green’s book is a blow-by-blow account of how the United States has come to this unbelievable juncture. A man who to all appearances has no conscience, no shame and no moral compass has been elevated to leader of the “free world.” Equally sobering is the fact that the Democratic Party put forward as their candidate a person who was so highly tainted when a credible alternative was at hand.

Michael Drohan is a member of the NewPeople Editorial Collective and the Merton Center Board

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