Defining and Controlling the Center of Discourse: Is Bannon’s Framing the Terms by Which Trump Might Be Criticized Actually a Favor in Disguise?

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”  —Winston Churchill


While Donald Trump is loyal to his family, and Bannon is loyal to Breitbart News, both are loyal Americans who wish to Make America Great Again.  Is it possible that Bannon, as a journalist on the outside of Trump’s inner circle within the administration, is in a position to help President Trump’s agenda by being severely critical of it?  Or is Bannon only being self-serving in his castigation of Trump family members’ scheduling of an ill-advised meeting that has had the effect of strengthening Trump’s opponents?

Framing the Center of Discourse

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Bannon, in his criticism of Donald Trump, as reported in The Guardian, has set up a situation—either intentionally or unintentionally—wherein the Democrat-aligned media, if they are to give credence to his remarks, are put in the position of having to validate Bannon as a news source.  This would have the effect of giving added legitimacy (along with free publicity to the pro-MAGA website Breitbart, whose increased popularity has been an overall boon to Trump).


Mr. Bannon, it is also true, has not revealed any information that people did not already know from media reports or already suspect to be true.  And the way he is framing the narrative about this information could very well create the center of discourse from which a great deal of future reporting on the matter will devolve.  Since Steve Bannon’s criticisms are common-sense and probably deserved, at least to some extent, he may as well say it first and in a way that will force more fairness in how future comments from the media will be structured or in the directions they are likely to take their reporting.


Interpreting Bannon

Steve Bannon: “The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor—with no lawyers.  They didn’t have any lawyers.”

Commentary: This comment by Bannon actually makes Team Trump appear more naïve than anything else.  It also serves to underscore how the people running Donald Trump’s campaign exposed him needlessly to criticism by having the June 2016 meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower.  That meeting involved Trump’s son Donald Junior, son-in-law Jared Kushner, and erstwhile Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.


Steve Bannon: “Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI.”

Commentary: Bannon uses hyperbole to describe the behavior of perhaps his three least favorite members of Trump’s inner circle, as it was constituted in June of 2016.  It is also no secret that Bannon is still no fan of Jared Kushner and remains leery of Don Junior’s ability to help the MAGA coalition.  By saying what he does, in the way he does, he takes much of the heat off Donald Trump initially, although he does not absolve Trump entirely.


Steve Bannon: “[Team Trump should have set up the meeting] in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people.  [Any information could then have been] dumped . . . down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication.”

Commentary: Bannon seems to suggest that the big deal about the meeting with Veselnitskaya was the amateurish way in which Trump’s team handled the meeting, since it would prove initially harmful to Trump, and later to the country, since the MAGA agenda may have been slowed down somewhat by all of this.  Yet it was all so preventable.  A public venue and a prompt call to the authorities may have gone a long way towards preventing media mischief.


Steve Bannon: “You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to. . . .  But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

Commentary: The main criticism of Trump that seems to be implied here is that he trusted the wrong people.


Steven Bannon: Bannon also makes the speculation that Donald Junior likely involved his father in the meeting, by saying, “The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero.”

Commentary: Again, while this seems critical of Trump, it also presents the likelihood that Trump did not know the contents of the failed meeting until after it had occurred.  Bannon exposes Trump to criticism throughout his commentary, while actually saving the harshest commentary for those who seem most likely to derail, long-term, Trump’s presidency along with his leadership of the MAGA Movement.  Bannon can always claim—and rightly so—that he did not spare Trump when it came to criticizing the people involved in his campaign, although Bannon also has framed his commentary to facilitate a line of thinking more critical of Trump’s lieutenants than of Trump himself.  It is better for Trump to be perceived as a well-meaning, if amiable, dunce—as Reagan was often accused of being—rather than categorized in a way that might prove less helpful to the MAGA agenda that Americans voted for on November 8, 2016.


Mueller’s Investigation

The Mueller investigation into Russian collusion is interesting, because it is actually an investigation in search of a crime.  Every close associate of Trump’s is being scrutinized, in order to turn up anything that might be creatively twisted into a crime or delegitimized by a creative interpretation of the law.


Special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed last May, following Trump’s dismissal of FBI director James Comey, to conduct an investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.  As a result, there have been four indictments of members of Trump’s inner circle, including Campaign Manager Paul Manafort.  Manafort has pled not guilty to money laundering charges; Flynn has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, although what he lied about was not a crime, so it is technically immaterial.  In recent weeks, Breitbart News and other conservative media outlets have accused Mueller’s team of anti-Trump bias, and, since Mueller’s investigative team is filled with Clinton donors and anti-Trumpers, the criticism of bias is warranted.  The only Russian collusion that has been proven thus far is Hillary Clinton’s collusion with the Kremlin to sell Putin-controlled Rosatom over 20% of America’s uranium, a move which severely damaged America’s national security, since the US is dependent on imports of the strategic element to fill demand.


Because Bannon, according to the report published in The Guardian, expressed concern that Trump’s hoped-for wrap-up of the Mueller witch hunt is not going to happen anytime soon, the critical position he has taken vis-à-vis the Trump team’s mishandling of a meeting with a Russian lawyer may work to Trump’s advantage, by putting the president on notice with regard to how the media is about to come after him, and signaling him as to the approach they will take.  “You realise where this is going,” Bannon offered.  “This is all about money laundering.  Mueller chose [senior prosecutor Andrew] Weissmann first and he is a money-laundering guy.  Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr and Jared Kushner. . . .  It’s as plain as a hair on your face.”


The Message

So, now Trump has been put on high alert.  And the message is this: Proceed with care; jettison your counterproductive family members; make sure you yourself are as bulletproof as possible; and do not take it for granted, in the bubble world that is the White House, that things will just go away.  Indeed, your first year in office has been a huge success, by any measure, but future success is by no means assured.  Nor are any missteps made by you or your inner circle beyond recovery.  But much hard work lies ahead.  And as important as it is to work hard, do not forget that you must also work smart.

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