So things have gotten serious.
The American government and its military are in the clutches of a cabal of profiteers and right-wing ideologues. Again.
Is this worse than the government of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, who are directly responsible for the deaths of 250,000 people in the Iraq War — 134,000 of them civilians, including children — and in large part for the rise of the Islamic State?
Or worse than George H.W. Bush, whose Gulf War killed over 20,000 Iraqis and resulted in 159,000 American soldiers returning home with illnesses and injuries serious enough to warrant medical compensation?
Obama is not stainless either: recall the 16-year-old boy in Yemen murdered by American drones, or the many other civilians recently killed in American attacks there, fanning revenge-based radicalization.
Slaughter in the name of American "freedom"
When even Cheney and George W. Bush criticize the policies of the new Republican president, I suggest the answer to my initial question must be yes: this administration is worse than any we’ve seen yet. But comparisons are not the point. The point is that in four years, the outrageous, racist boondoggles currently arousing so much justified protest — whether they are head fakes or not — may look like minor opening gambits for larger, far more horrific events.
One such event could be another unjust war where thousands of innocents are slaughtered in the name of American “freedom”— something to rally Trumpian populists around the Republican punchbowl.
These citizens are not only in southern states like Alabama (where 1.3 million people voted Trump). They live in “blue” northeastern states like New York, which had double as many votes for Trump as Alabama (2.6 million), and in “left coast” bastions like California (3 million for Trump). And there are plenty of Canadians who will cheer on any war by America, however unfounded and mercenary.
Sabre-rattling with Iran is underway now, and last week The Guardian reported on Bannon’s March 2016 statement that in the next five or 10 years America is “going to war in the South China Sea ... no doubt.”
A USA Today article also quoted Bannon from successive Breitbart podcasts: “Some of these situations may get a little unpleasant," he said in November 2015. "But you know what, we’re in a war. We’re clearly going into, I think, a major shooting war in the Middle East again."
In December 2015, he expanded on his views about ongoing threats to America. "You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China.... They're motivated, they're arrogant, they're on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”
The notion of a threatened "Judeo-Christian West" is precious to Bannon. Journalist Paul Blumenthal has reported that in a 2011 speech to a Republican women's group, he stated that the “Judeo-Christian West is collapsing. It’s imploding. And it’s imploding on our watch. And the blowback of that is going to be tremendous.”
That same year, according to Blumenthal, Bannon said to the conservative Liberty Restoration Foundation: “This is the fourth great crisis in American history. We had the Revolution. We had the Civil War. We had the Great Depression and World War II. This is the great Fourth Turning in American history.”
Bannon's ideas about war are not informed only by his twisted geopolitical analysis, but by a theory about 80-year cycles of history, in which societies are reshaped by cataclysmic wars. Bannon learned this from a book called the The Fourth Turning, as David Von Drehle reported in a Time magazine profile. "A party guest recalled meeting [Bannon] as a private citizen, and Bannon telling him that he was like Lenin, eager to 'bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's Establishment.'"
A war, if Bannon can provoke one, would serve Bannon's ideas about history. It would also serve his political ends.
The Dubya Doctrine
History has seen a steady procession of American leaders charge into war for political expediency. Mickey Herskowitz, a journalist and former ghostwriter for George W. Bush, said that two years before the 9/11 attacks, the presidential hopeful was already meditating on the political benefits of going to war with Saddam Hussein. Herskowitz revealed this in a 2004 interview with Russ Baker, author of the Bush family expose Family of Secrets.
"It was on his mind," Herskowitz recounts in the book. "He said to me: 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.' And he said, 'My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.' He said, 'If I have a chance to invade... if I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a successful presidency.’"
It was in war, Baker notes, that George W. Bush "saw the opportunity to emerge from his father's shadow."
That moment came for Bush in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as Herskowitz told Baker: “Suddenly, he's at 91 percent in the polls, and he'd barely crawled out of the bunker."
The Dubya Doctrine of war as an image booster is part of the long and generally undiscussed history of American imperialism— myriad U.S.-backed coups and black ops that have installed or propped up dictators all over the world. If there is to be a war, quick, relatively small ones are preferred by amoral, soul-dead leaders eager to be seen as great commanders-in-chief. They offer leaders the chance of a shot on the battleship prow and not too much blowback in the polls. But quagmires and catastrophic cascades are frequent outcomes.
It’s all part of the “odious continuum,” to use journalist Glenn Greenwald’s phrase, of blood spilled by American leaders. Given past comments and current actions, it’s a good bet Steve Bannon and his pet president will join the parade, and do so with relish.
They know the power of fear and anger, and they serve their dark masters well. That 49 per cent of the American public favour Trump's attempted ban on immigrants from select Middle Eastern countries— notably, none of those like Saudi Arabia that house Trump Organization assets— shows just how effective the idea of a dangerous “other” is.
China and Iran are ideal for Bannon. He is busy framing both countries as godless threats to the "Judeo-Christian West"— something harder to do with post-Communist Russia. If that seems like an oddly medieval angle to take, it’s not: it’s supremely tactical. Over 70 per cent of Americans identify as Christian, and a 2010 Pew poll found that 41 per cent of of Americans believe Jesus will return by 2050.
I would guess that those who believe the world will end in under 40 years are likely to be less concerned about the costs of war— or about keeping the planet alive— than those who don't. In this light, Trump’s recent promise to “totally destroy” political limitations on churches, so that pastors can endorse candidates “from the pulpit,” might be another well-planned move in an intelligent, long-term strategy to manipulate the American public.
Christianity itself is not the real problem. Christians are only one demographic Trump and Bannon want to rile up. The real problem is men like them— men happy to invoke religion to achieve evil and destruction on a grand scale.
We should keep in mind that Bannon’s belligerence is not only an American issue. Canada and many other nations will be profoundly impacted by, and possibly drawn into, whatever war he drums up.
Unlock the black box
So what do we do? Here are five early considerations:
First, be forewarned. In classic fascist style, Bannon wants to unfurl the military banners in public squares, and give beaten-down Americans something to rally around. He is probably already picking out his suit.
Second, alongside current legal actions to protect immigrants and minorities, progressives should be thinking long-term, tactical, and preemptive. How do you stop a war that hasn’t begun? I don’t know. But we need to start thinking about that, whether we live in America or not. Moderate Republicans — that dying breed — may be pivotal in helping head off catastrophe. Liberal religious institutions will also be critical.
Third, business leaders, traditionally skittish about taking positions on government policies, need to take a stand for their principles and make it known that they oppose another needless war. There was an excellent commentary on this in Conscious Company magazine by Gerry Valentine, in which he challenged business leaders to “climb down out of our idealist ivory towers, and to create broader alliances.” Those who are part of organizations like the Social Venture Network, Business for Social Responsibility, Net Impact and BALLE should begin urging these groups to issue preemptive statements and start working now with political representatives to head off another war.
Fourth, progressives should start consciously reaching out to businesses and forging alliances. To quote U.S. strategist Mike Lux: “The progressive movement will not win substantive change in this country without strong and successful business leaders being on our side.” The world of business is traditionally a black box for progressives — a huge advantage for right-wing conservatives, for whom that is not the case. Business is the greatest ally progressives have never thought of, and the two need to work together more. A lot more.
Lastly, we need to go deep and get grounded spiritually and emotionally. Get conscious of how you feel, and don’t allow yourself to be run by a reactive hatred of the bully archetype or paranoid visions of apocalypse. We need to stay in our hearts. That means being open to possibility, and focusing more on what we all have in common than what separates us.
If we don’t, we won’t be able connect with each other effectively, lead effectively, or reach out to those who may not agree with us in many (or most) things — but who also don’t want to see another generation slaughtered to serve the careers of a cabal of despots.