Politics

Steve Bannon's Preposterous 'Rosebud' Moment

A populist's dramatic tale ends in tears for the little people.

Elevator pitch.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

White House strategist Steve Bannon understands how narrative works. In Hollywood films, at least the assembly-line models, plot points are inserted to send the hero off on a quest and, later, to send the action veering in an unexpected (well, sort of) new direction. They explain the hero to himself and others, give him a goal and erect obstacles (drama!) in the path of achieving it.

Bannon, who made documentary films before becoming chairman of the propaganda website Breitbart, has offered reporters his own plot point to explain how a multimillionaire Harvard Business School graduate and Goldman Sachs alumnus acquired his "fiery populism."

Steve Bannon's Weird, Winding Road to the White House

Bannon's father, Marty Bannon, worked and saved his whole life only to get clobbered by the financial crisis. I'll let the Richmond Times-Dispatch deliver the elevator pitch: "When Steve Bannon saw Wall Street’s recklessness hit home and the impact on his father," the paper reported in November, "it fueled his rage against a system he now describes as 'socialism for the wealthy,' where benefits accrue to those at the top while the downside is spread among the masses."

The Wall Street Journal this week put the elevator pitch into long form. Marty Bannon, it seems, had put his faith in the stock of AT&T Inc., the company for which he worked for half a century. When the financial crisis hit, the senior Bannon didn't turn to his wealthy and successful financier son for advice. He panicked and sold, losing more than $100,000.

The Journal reported: "There were many factors that turned Steve Bannon into a divisive political firebrand. But his decision to embrace 'economic nationalism' and vehemently oppose the forces and institutions of globalization, he says, stems from his upbringing, his relationship with his father and the meaning those AT&T shares held for the family.

Bannon concurs: “Everything since then has come from there,” he told the Journal. “All of it.”

It's quite a Rosebud moment, and a compelling example of what Vanity Fair called "the frame in which Bannon views how policies have historically been manipulated to the benefit of elites and to the detriment of the working class."

The reckless and contemptuous elites tank the global economy without remorse or penalty. Bannon's dad, now 95, makes a bad stock trade in a panic, and our hero, his son, goes off on a quest to avenge the dignity of the average working man who has been so brutally betrayed.

Where to begin?

Imagine, for a moment, a Hollywood producer -- I once saw a yacht-sized Mercedes on Wilshire Boulevard with the license plate "IDEAMAN," so let's make it that guy -- taking this feeble, generic script and offering Bannon's real-life trajectory as the conclusion.

Here's how our story ends.

To avenge his middle-class father, Bannon goes to work for the heir of a real-estate fortune whose standard operating practice over decades has been to cheat people -- tradesmen, contractors -- who aren't rich or powerful enough to be able to afford to sue him. People, in other words, like Marty Bannon.

When the heir wins the presidency, Bannon follows him to the White House where they promptly propose to relieve 24 million regular Joes and Josephines of their health insurance while giving the very wealthiest people in the country giant tax cuts. Oh, and the administration turns out to be chock full of Goldman Sachs alumni, including a Treasury secretary who made a fortune as the "foreclosure king," destroying the households (and wealth) of lots and lots of Marty Bannons.

So if you want to know why Steve Bannon ran a website that became a digital drag bar for neo-Nazis and racists, or why he is determined to ban desperate, war-ravaged Muslim refugees from reaching American shores, or to deport mothers of American children to nations they haven't seen in years, or to stop subsidizing health insurance for the poor and middle class, or to eliminate environmental safeguards, or to deregulate Wall Street so that it has fewer constraints in exploiting vulnerable investors, or to deliver vast tax cuts to extremely wealthy people like Steve Bannon -- all while the president of the United States conceals his tax returns and sells the presidency for profit, well, it all comes down to what the elites did to poor Marty Bannon.  

“Everything since then has come from there,” Bannon said. “All of it.”

Please.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

    To contact the author of this story:
    Francis Wilkinson at fwilkinson1@bloomberg.net

    To contact the editor responsible for this story:
    Jonathan Landman at jlandman4@bloomberg.net

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