The Travel Ban and the Steve Bannon Playbook

I didn’t go to the protest at BWI yesterday. If I’d found out about it two hours earlier, I might have; I didn’t have anything else happening yesterday.

In the last twenty-four hours I’ve seen several writers note that the protests against Trump’s travel ban from seven Muslim countries are a feature, not a bug, of Trump’s governance. That it’s what Steve Bannon, the anarcho-nihilist behind Trump’s upholstered Oval Office chair, wants and desires. That Trump and Bannon have found an wedge issue that will open up not just space between left and right but a chasm. And Trump can use this wedge to secure his presidency, not just for four years but for a full eight.

Here’s the way New York Magazine‘s Ed Kilgore puts it: “Trump and his closest associates do not fear blue-state protests of the sort that swept the nation this weekend. More likely than not, they exult in them, and have planned all along to exploit them to show Trump loyalists they are fighting disorderly and essentially unpatriotic people who value civil liberties more than national security, diversity more than national identity, and America’s enemies more than America.” In other words, Trump loves America. Trump’s opponents love the terrorists. And Trump can tap into that fear and ride out any controversy because his supporters will love him for the villification he’s taking from the left.

Kevin Drum makes the same point in Mother Jones. The travel ban wasn’t an unforced error. It was a deliberate provocation from Bannon, one that liberals have taken in their defense of American values. “Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win. Liberals think the same thing. All the protests, the court judgments, the press coverage: this is something that will make middle America understand just what Trump is really all about. And once they figure it out, they’ll turn on him. In other words, both sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness. Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for. Who’s going to win?”

That’s a good question, Kevin. A very good question, indeed.

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