Stephen K. Bannon may be gone, but he won’t soon be forgotten. Firing the chief strategist from the White House will bolster the frayed hopes of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly that he might somehow corral the raging bull in the Oval Office. Plenty of china has been smashed since January, but a few dishes — maybe even the prized platter of tax reform — could yet be rescued. Maybe.
But Bannon played a role for President Donald Trump that no one else can fill, one that Trump will pine for like a junkie pines for smack. The impresario of apocalyptic politics gave Trump a grandiose image of himself at a time when the real estate mogul was building a movement but had no real ideas.
Until Bannon came along, Trump was a political smorgasbord. He had been a Democrat, an independent and a Republican. He had been pro-choice and anti-abortion. He did business in the Middle East and tweeted about a Muslim ban. As for deep policy debates, he really couldn’t be bothered. He was a vibe, a zeitgeist — not a platform.
Bannon convinced him that he was something more than a political neophyte with great instincts and perfect timing. Trump, Bannon purred in his ear, was the next wave of world history. He painted a picture of Trump as a world-historical force, the revolutionary leader of a “new political order,” as the strategist told Time magazine earlier this year.
Under the influence of a pair of generational theorists, William Strauss and Neil Howe, Bannon conceives of American history as a repeating cycle of four phases. A generation struggles with an existential crisis: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II. The next generation builds institutions to prevent a future crisis. The next generation rebels against the institutions, leading to a “Fourth Turning,” in which the next crisis comes. Believing that another crisis is upon us, Bannon framed a role in Trump’s imagination for the former real estate mogul to remake the world. To the list of crisis presidents — George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt — they would add the name of Trump.
With Bannon gone, the White House might become a place less in love with conflict and chaos. But it is hard to think that Trump will be happy without aides who can paint such a picture for him. He will be looking for ways to keep in touch with his Svengali, because once you’ve been a Man of Destiny, it’s hard to go back to being a guy who got lucky.
David Von Drehle,
The Washington Post