The Economic Nationalism of Steven K. Bannon

After listening to dozens of podcasts by Steven K. Bannon in his War Room Pandemic series, I realize why the propagandists for the corporate state portray a straightforward republican and nationalist as a racist and antisemite—to prevent people from investing any time in the arguments he is making by making him a pariah. The campaign of delegitimization extends to the rank and file of the working class who identify as conservative and patriotic. The elite marginalize those who listen to Bannon by describing them as “deplorable,” a term Hillary Clinton used to smear Trump supporters and advocates. Remember? “A basket full of deplorables”? Bannon openly embraces the deplorables, both in the United States and in China, the lao baixing, or “old hundred names.” These are “the people.” The “commoners.”

Progressives may dismiss Bannon, but elites are listening. I understand why. The man is a savant. I feel like I’m in a college course focused not on preparing docile bodies and cultural managers for the smooth hegemonic functioning of corporate capitalism, but on informing students about what is really going on. Almost every day, Bannon offers up puzzle pieces that lock into place and fill in the picture. I am learning things about China that every American should know—and that every Chinese already knows. Every weekend, in his “Descent into Hell” programs, Bannon gives Chinese dissidents access to his broadcasting machinery to tell the world about the terror of Chinese communism—a boot stamping on the face of humanity. I confess that I had operated under the assumption that China’s turn to capitalism signaled a betrayal of communism, not a strategy to expand the reach of bureaucratic collectivism. Now I see totalitarianism with a Chinese character, a character that dovetails with the interests of the globalist West—suppressing personal freedom and dismantling republican government.

Perhaps paradoxically for a Christian nationalist, Bannon’s interpretation of the world is Marxian-like in its grasp of the totality and commitment to critically interrogating facts across a range of interpenetrating structures. He even speaks the language of dialectics. Sometimes explicitly. Bannon brings on to his show theorists and analysts from a constellation of intellectual networks ignored and marginalized by corporate propaganda services such as CNN. His team—Raheem Kassam, Jack Maxey, and Jason Miller—provide insights along the way. I listen to a lot of podcasts, but this is the one I most look forward to each day.

Do I agree with everything Bannon says? Of course not. I listen to him in part because I learn from those with whom I disagree. I am not a Christian nationalist. But I am an atheist and a nationalist. His populist nationalism is not my type of populist nationalism. Bannon does not, apart from strong pronouncements of faith, let his theological views cloud his thinking about material things. He likes facts and metrics. I think SARS-CoV-2 is not so deadly. But I don’t need to agree with Bannon’s assessment of this virus to agree with him that we are in this situation because of China. I am not a fan of the military, albeit I recognize the necessity of national defense. Bannon sees the US military as the single greatest force for the cause of freedom in history. His outlook is rightwing and capitalist. I am leftwing and a libertarian-socialist. But on the things that matter—commitment to individual liberty and small “d” and “r” democratic-republicanism—our values intersect. 

I share with Bannon the view that the United States of America is the nation defending freedom against totalitarianism. Moreover, we share the view that our greatness and the imperative of our dominance are in peril by the quislings running our government at the behest of the transnational elite. To be sure, Bannon represents a wing of the capitalist class, namely the economic nationalist fraction. But progressives represent the other wing of the capitalist class—the corporate globalist fraction. The corporate globalist faction threatens our freedom and democracy by striving to place power in the hands of unaccountable technocrats operating as the transnational level, beyond the reach of the sovereign people. 

Democrat Joe Biden is one of those quisling trying to get back into government, an operative for the globalist elite long working with China. Biden is a functionary in the project for the managed decline of the American Republic and the West and aiding the insinuation of China into the global supply chain. We are becoming incorporated into a tributary state thanks to the work of politicians like Biden. Learn about President Barack Obama’s East Asia Strategy (2009–2017), his “pivot to Asia” doctrine. Read Hillary Clinton’s 2011 “America’s Pacific Century.” Study the history of the Nixon Administration with Henry Kissinger at the foreign policy helm. The American people have been betrayed by a bipartisan effort to build up the Chinese Communist Party while weakening the West, all for the sake of restoring profits. 

Populist nationalism is what the working class requires if it is to keep in place the republican machinery it requires for determining its collective fate. Globalization is the common enemy of working Americans not nationalism. If folks aren’t outraged when, today, tens of millions of Americans are jobless, while foreign workers continue to obtain visas to come here and do the work Americans can do, then you have not grasped the threat to the American working class represented by globalism. Capitalism is not the most desirable political economic system, but in its globalist modality it is by far the most destructive manifestation of this system. We have to restore the integrity of the American republic and the power of the sovereign American people or we will lose our democracy.

Recently I reviewed Bannon’s positions on a number of issues. He advocates reductions in immigration, as well as restrictions on trade, particularly with China. He is in favor of raising federal income taxes for the rich to pay for tax cuts for working people. He supports significantly increasing spending on infrastructure. He supports increased regulation of Internet companies like Facebook and Google, which he regards as akin to utilities in the modern age. He opposed the merger between Time-Warner and AT&T on antitrust grounds. Despite his pro-military stance, he is generally skeptical of military intervention abroad, opposing proposals for the expansion of U.S. involvement in the war in Afghanistan, the Syrian Civil War, and the crisis in Venezuela. He describes U.S. allies in Europe, the Persian Gulf, the South China Sea, the Strait of Malacca, as well as South Korea and Japan, as having become “protectorates of the United States” that do not “make an effort to defend [themselves],” and believes NATO members should pay a minimum of 2% of GDP on defense. He supports repairing United States-Russia relations and opposes upgrading the US nuclear arsenal. He describes himself as an economic nationalist, criticizing crony capitalism, Austrian economics, and the objectivism of Ayn Rand, which he believes seeks to “make people commodities, and to objectify people.” That’s a lot of stuff I agree with.

Bannon has a worldview and much of it is plausible. This makes for a strong base from which to work a style of politics. It’s not my style, but Bannon gets what a lot folks don’t—you need a theory of the world as a foundation for your political activism. The left has a theory and a method, too. But the left is alienated from itself. The working class is fractured. We need to get back to class analysis and socialist politics. But we have to defeat globalism and save our republic first.

Update (May 26, 2020). I podcasted the announcement of this blog with a podcast and thought readers would find this useful in reflecting on the spirit of the blog.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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