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The Puppet Presidency Begins As Bannon Takes The Reins

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The Puppet Presidency Begins As Bannon Takes The Reins


Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

One key question of the Trump presidency in its first week is: who is actually going to perform the tasks associated with the job?

While the liberal comedians and right-wing pundits agitate themselves about crowd sizes, odd tweets, and imaginary voter fraud, Politico and The Hill supply some data points about the all-important paper flow in Washington. Steve Bannon, the former Goldman Sachs executive-turned-Breitbart News chief, is running the government, while the president argues with actresses.

Politico reports that the executive orders Trump has been signing were prepared and coordinated by Bannon. Various Cabinet secretaries and congressional leaders were not consulted, according to the story. Such procedural corner-cutting is not inconsequential when it comes to spending $25 billion of taxpayer funds or running the CIA.

But whatever the eventual costs, the current reality seems to be that Bannon—not his White House rivals, chief of staff Reince Priebus or Vice President Mike Pence—decides what piece of paper gets put in front of Donald Trump’s pen.

The “Breitbartization” of the White House comes as no surprise to people at the conservative news site.

“I’m surprised it took this long,” one Breitbart reporter told The Hill. “There are a number of people on staff who clearly have resumes that would lend themselves to the administration. These two are ideologically in line with Bannon. They’re people he can trust. It makes sense.”

The two are Breitbart immigration operative Julia Hahn and Breitbart’s national security propagandist, Sebastian Gorka. Hahn is expected to join the White House as an aide to Bannon. Gorka will also relocate to the White House, likely with a spot on the president’s National Security Council, according to Business Insider. Neither has much relevant experience.

So far Trump is rubber-stamping the agenda of a radical Congress on Capitol Hill. But that is not the most distinctive feature of the Trump interregnum. An “interregnum” is a period when normal government is suspended. That is clearly the case in Washington. The Trump administration is not normal American government, not in its ethos or allegiance to democratic norms; it is an interruption.

And Bannon is the interruptor. The Republican congressional leaders may be radical; they are also spineless. When House Speaker Paul Ryan was asked about the president’s bogus claims about electoral fraud, he shrugged and said, “I’m a policy guy.”

As Trump wobbles and wheezes, Bannon is stepping forward. On the fifth day of Trump’s presidency he called a reporter to denounce The New York Times as “the opposition” who, he emphasized, deserved “humiliation.”

Bannon projects the image of a strong, if flabby man. He’s a winner in the mold of Trump but perhaps more intelligent, an ordinary guy, a Seinfeld fan. He is also a self-proclaimed revolutionary from Wall Street, imbued with the animal spirits of capitalism and the racial chauvinism of the so-called alt-right.

Compared to Bannon, Pence and Priebus are out of his league. They want to play with piety and politics. Bannon wants to remake the globe. Pence worries about the morals of gay people. Bannon wants to depose German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Bannon’s unsurprising emergence as first among equals in the White House is a signal moment in the Trump interregnum. Compared to Trump, he looks presidential.

As the citizenry starts to pierce the smokescreen of Bannon’s taunting and Trump’s fibs, they will have to pay attention to how the White House actually works.

Traditionally, the American presidency has two leadership functions, neatly summarized in a sign I saw in a friend’s kitchen: “El hombre reina; la mujer gobierna.” The man reigns; the woman governs. The message is gendered (as they say), but the wisdom it expresses is common sense. Leadership of a household or a nation-state has two dimensions: the ceremonial function of embodying a functioning collective and the practical function of getting things done.

As performed by the last four presidents, the position of the chief executive of the U.S. government was akin to that of the CEO of the world’s largest non-profit. While their politics varied widely, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Bush Sr. all did the same basic job.

These presidents presented themselves as the embodiment of the nation while presiding over a vast network of executive branch agencies. They reported to a fractious board of directors (Congress) and a vast service audience (the American people). Whether Republican or Democrat, these presidents organized their staff to receive, screen, and distill information and policy choices coming in from Cabinet agencies, the armed services, and scores of independent federal agencies. These presidents used the information to direct the governmental actions according to their political calculations and beliefs, and to negotiate with Congress and the courts for money and legitimacy.

This executive aspect of the Oval Office job does not much interest Trump. He is a marketer by trade, with some genius for developing and executing dubious real estate deals. His attention span is legendarily short. He is passionate about a few issues (immigration, regulation, murder in Chicago) but has no interest in public policy as a daily task.

Trump delights in the ceremonial presidency, as demonstrated by his ramblings about crowd size, popular vote margins, and standing ovations. Trump may be losing his mind in public, but he is a master of the ceremonial presidency. Or he is an emperor with no clothes. Or both.

Masha Gessen notes that Trump, like his friend Vladimir Putin, understands the “lie is the message“; Trump’s false statements serve as true messages to his supporters. His lies disrupt and distract his opponents and burnish his image as the reigning power. While his opponents bicker about facts, he floats higher: El hombre reina.

It is a tragedy. It is a farce. It is, according to the Washington Post, a story of backbiting, ego contests, and confusion. Yet there is no doubt Trump and Bannon are projecting a strong and clear message to their supporters: The president is on the job. He’s a break from the liberal past. His critics are contemptible and petty. You can read all about it on Breitbart News:

America is in control of its borders. … Voter fraud is under investigation. … Madonna has been banned from a Texas radio station. … Milo is courageously fending off oppressive gay leftists. …

America is getting greater, one Border Wall Construction Co. T-shirt at a time.

One would have to go back to Ronald Reagan to find a president as disinterested in daily decision-making as Trump is likely to be. Trump resembles Reagan in key ways, both in his appeal and his politics. The difference is that Reagan was conservative, not radical. The Reagan team sought to capture the existing federal government structure on behalf of the conservative movement.

The Trump team is seeking to dismantle the existing government structure and traditions of government in a way that is not normal. When Reagan came to Washington, the top management team of the State Department did not resign en masse. Under Trump, they just did. They are not partisans but public servants. They would be glad to hand off to a new administration. They want no part of Trump.

Bannon can claim a victory of sorts. The Washington establishment is being routed. And indeed it is. The normal administration of the American government has ended. The interregnum has begun.

Jefferson Morley is AlterNet’s Washington correspondent.

IMAGE: Senior staff at the White House Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon (L-R) applaud before being sworn in by Vice President Mike Pence in Washington, DC January 22, 2017.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria



  1. Aaron_of_Portsmouth January 27, 2017

    Steve Bannon—the KKK’s most well-placed celebrity racist. What a coup, Trump supporters have accomplished. Didn’t think a photo without Trump in it would put such a hurting on the vision, but the above photo is dreadful in its implications of what’s in store. I’ve noticed that the same smarmy smugness above seems to personify every photo taken thus far of Trump and company, aside from little Barron’s somber expression.

  2. Thoughtopsy January 27, 2017


    You have the Alt-Right running your President.
    You have Russia with potentially damaging blackmail material running your President.
    You have a President who is defiantly ignorant and embodies the definition of the Dunning-Kruger effect…

    And you have the President himself with businesses all over the place to corruptly profit from… (which he still hasn’t even signed over the running of to his sons… as he said he would.)

    You guys are SO f**ked.

    1. Rhodawmax January 28, 2017

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    2. Dan S January 28, 2017

      Um yeah we’re totally screwed. I have to ask, what country are you from ? More importantly are you taking US residents in ? ????

      1. Eleanore Whitaker January 28, 2017

        You know who most of the middle age brazen, ruthless barons of BS are: right wing commandos doing the bidding of their Commando in Chief.

        1. kep January 28, 2017

          Stupid, blind liberal commies whining. Got to love it.

          1. Eleanore Whitaker January 28, 2017

            The only stupid ones are you CONmen. So you think you have ALL the power, do you? Think again BS artist. Your boy Trump is Putin’s butt kisser and you can’t stand that.

            You and your Alternate FACTS are not impressing anyone and in fact, since last weekend, you now have more than 3 million very pissed off Americans ready to smash CONmen like you into those cement walls your McMommies bashed all your brains into.

          2. kep January 28, 2017

            If only our President Trump would outlaw liberal commies like yourself, we would have our country back, once again. People, and I use the term loosely for trolls like you, like you ARE the problem in America. Go back to that dark place from whence you came.

          3. Eleanore Whitaker January 28, 2017

            So…tell us…which mental hospital are you committed to? Trump can’t outlaw his law bowel movement. That’s why he’s running for advice from Putin.

            Go back to your hick state slums where you impregnate women and then abandon them and your evil spawn.

            As for troll, lil keppie proves that by laying around all day trolling for anyone who DARES not condone that liar in chief who is soon to become the Treasonist in Chief.

            He goes down and so do you Troll boy.

          4. kep January 29, 2017

            Im still hoping that the last regime to be tried and found guilty of fraud and treason, then publicly executed.

          5. Eleanore Whitaker January 29, 2017

            Generally, the rule of law is that you must have EVIDENCE of a crime. Now, we do know what your crimes are don’t we? Start with libel and slander. I’d watch my ass if I were you.

            Libel and slander are now something Hillary and Obama can sue your ass for. They are longer working directly for the government.

            Sicko bastards like you need to be hung upside down WITH Trump your Hump, in front of Trump Tower. And you just MIGHT get that if you don’t learn to turn off your BS.

          6. kep January 29, 2017

            LOL. That’s funny coming from an un-American communist troll, like yourself. The Emperor is an illegal fraud that was bent on the destruction of America. And Hillary is the leader of the biggest crime family in the world. Then there are trolls like you that can only trash America and its people. You should really get back on your meds, and perhaps go home to your Mother Russia.

          7. bobnstuff January 29, 2017

            Crime family, you want to talk about Crime families. Look at The Trump family, Daddy was in the KKK and got into trouble for ripping off the government many times. The Don has ties to the Mob and has paid millions in fines for breaking the law. It’s easy to prove Trumps crimes, just go to the court records. As far as Mother Russia, just who has the ties to Mother Russia?

          8. SeanM62 January 28, 2017

            Answer the lady’s post. Your gyrations away from substance and toward ad hominum attacks show you have nothing o argue, just name-calling. Back to 4th grade for you to learn manners and logic.

          9. Bill P January 28, 2017

            That is what these trolls do, resort to name calling when they have no provable facts (as opposed to alternative facts) to back up their claims

          10. kep January 29, 2017

            What “lady” are you referring to? Surely you aren’t calling the most vile creature on the internet a “lady”? If so, you really have been indoctrinated and brainwashed, as if there really was a question of that. Do you liberals take meds that totally strips away all your reason and intellect? It would seem so.

          11. SeanM62 January 29, 2017

            rep: Hey, snowflake – you are still dancing away from answering her points, just slinging insults. Can’t stand women with brains? Of course, you are a Trump supporter – we all should have guessed. For you pseudo-conservatives, an intelligent woman is just frightening. Get a pair of big-boy pants and grow up. You have no creds here. Back to 4th grade – again.

          12. bobnstuff January 28, 2017

            I wonder what ever happened to the idea of freedom with people like kep. He seems to forget that in a free country you have a right to your own point of view and beliefs. This fascists are really un American. I wonder just how much he is getting paid.

          13. kep January 29, 2017

            Freedom doesnt exist in your liberal communist utopia, snowflake. Go meltdown in your safe place.

          14. bobnstuff January 29, 2017

            Is it not interesting that the people who talk the most about freedom are the very ones that keep taking it away. Ever heard of the Patriot Act, the single largest grab of our rights in history. How about the rights to privacy or the right of a women over her own body. Do you believe in the right to be free from illegal search and seizure, you know that stop and frisk if your are black. How about the freedom of religion for non Christians. Just what freedom are you talking about? People have a right to believe in communism or socialism if they choose in a free country. You don’t even understand the meaning of those words but you use them anyway. You don’t believe in freedom for anyone except for those that agree with you. That’s not freedom.

          15. stsintl January 28, 2017

            Welcome to the second Hitler era. This is exactly what Hitler did to get the WWII started.

          16. Hmmm yes if only the US had EVEN MORE fascism. That might work, although it literally never has in human history.

            You are garbage.

          17. 788eddie January 28, 2017

            Hey Kep, unless you’re worth millions (minimum), you are one of Trump’s targets; you won’t benefit from his temporary administration.

          18. OK sorry that you’re so uneducated that you couldn’t make any kind of counter-argument. It’s largely because you’re a slack-jawed moron, of course.

    3. dtgraham January 29, 2017

      I hear you Thoughtopsy and I love your posts, but some things are really not for us to say. I’m not American either, but when I’m here I try to post in measured tones if I’ve something to say. I can run Republicans down with the best of ’em, but all of our fellow progressives here do too.

      When it comes to America itself though, some observations are for Americans only to make — not for me. I try to be respectful. On Canadian political websites, I say whatever I want, but I give some thought to what I say at the National Memo.

  3. Eleanore Whitaker January 28, 2017

    Why is it the most evil men figure out the way to be a back room president? Bannon is the neo Cheney?

    The Republicans OWN this. No matter how the issues are skirted by the “alternate facts,” it comes down to Priebus allowing Trump in the race in the first place.

    Now, the Baron of BS is about to have a nice, lovey dovey phone conversation with Putin? How fast do you think the Republicans would have found some tiny Constitutional violation in that if it was Obama? Or Hillary?

    Let ’em get away with it all. They are proving that the most immature minded men are turning into micro controllers just like Hitler. And you know how that ended.

    Sometimes bad little boys refuse to listen to reason. So you let them fall as hard as they can on their butts.

  4. SeanM62 January 28, 2017

    President Steve Bannon. Wow! We really are in deep s#$t. And voter suppression worked for the Rethuglicans.

  5. bobnstuff January 28, 2017

    It took them long enough to figure out who had the power, I said this a few days ago. Trump is not capable of keeping a thought long enough to finish a speech let alone come up with all these EO’s. Bannon is the new president. May the Lord have Mercy on us all.

  6. ivory69690@yahoo.com January 28, 2017

    ok for all the brain dead followers for DONNY DUMP are you going to join his feelings about his Russian B/F PUTTHEAD ? do all of you not bright followers feel that the PUTTHEAD is a gentleman as the DUMPSTER’s seem to think so and calls him that ? and if you think like the clown car driver then you want him to lift the sanctions on Russia ? im sure being brain dead as you followers are you don’t understand or want to see that the DUMPSTER want to do this for a payment to PUTTHEAD for helping DONNY DUMP win the election . unknowing to you all doing this is a form of a TRAITOR to the USA . but then again what do you care you all are still getting your free DONNY DUMP CLOWN SHOW ///but he says he love to fight . if so then why did it that the coward draft dodger 5 times to chicken out of fighting for the country he say he so loves ? and the DUMPSTER say’s >(I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on Earth)WRONG CLOWN DONNY that would be you who is the very most dishonest clown on earth hands down you win that crown DONNY DUMP THE KING OF DISHONEST. then > And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community.’’ – Jan. 21, remarks at the CIA// as far as intelligence go’s that a cancer you and your staff stay as far away as you can from that . ///Trump lashed out at the intelligence agencies and asked: ‘‘Are we living in Nazi Germany?’’/// one wonders now with you in the house you see to fit and fill the Hitler row . there is a way to dump the DUMPSTER the 25-th amendment

  7. yabbed January 28, 2017

    This incompetent fat fool is everyone’s and anyone’s puppet. Putin’s, Bannon’s McConnell’s, Pence’s , Ryan’s …. he is a total know nothing who is running on his depleted, pitiful ego and the freaks and racists and anti-semites running this administration. It makes me sick to see America fall into such deplorable hands.

  8. Donna Wilker January 28, 2017

    In one word, Yes. This was the plan all along, since donnie is soooo easy to manipulate.

  9. stsintl January 28, 2017

    When does a democratic nation become a point on the “Axis of Evil”?

    1. When the government is “of the PACs, by the PACs, and for the PACs” rather than “of the people, by the people, and for the people” [PACs stands for Political Action Committees/Lobbyist Groups/Influence Peddlers etc.]

    2. When the government selects the candidates to represent their people, rather than people selecting candidates to represent them in the government.

    3. When public opinion is shaped to support a government policy, rather than public opinion shaping the government policy.

    4. When government demands that people serve its interests rather than people demanding government that it serve their interests.

    5. When advisors choose and control their leaders in the government rather than leaders in the government choosing and controlling their advisors.

    6. When people are held accountable to the government rather than government being held accountable to the people.

    7. When the judicial system of the nation is rendered subservient to the political system rather than political system being subservient to the judicial system of the nation.

    8. When government policies and actions are engineered to benefit the few at the expense of the masses rather than benefiting the masses at the expense of a few.

    9. When the civilized government adopts tactics of the terrorists rather than terrorists adopting tactics of the civilized government.

    10. When the government uses its powers to restrain intellectuals and open debates rather than intellectuals and open debates restraining the powers of the government.

    11. When free press is made answerable to the political party bosses rather than political bosses being made answerable to the free press.

    12. When arrogance of military power controls the humility of diplomatic process rather than humility of diplomatic process controlling the arrogance of military power.

    Score each statement on 0-9 scale with 0 for Never True to 9 for Always True. If the total reaches 100, then the nation has arrived at the infamous “Axis of Evil” of George W. Bush era.

  10. 1Zoe55 January 28, 2017

    Where is Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law in all these machinations? I thought that being an Orthodox Jew would mean that Kushner, of all people, would move to block this Bannon from implementing these anti-semitic orders in order to protect Trump. Or is Kushner a Kapo, one of the Jews who helped his fellow Jews to the ovens at the concentration camps? If so, Kushner is in for a world of surprise when the Bannon Nazis come looking for him.

  11. itsfun January 28, 2017

    Disinterested in daily decisions; I thing not. President Trump has made more decisions in one week in office then others have made in months. President Trump is no bodies puppet, he is the master. He is already following through on his campaign promises. People in the media and political establishments just can’t deal with someone that is actually doing what he said he would do. The party leaders are no longer running the country, the President is. President Trump met with both business leaders and union leaders in the same week, and both the business and union leaders came out of the meetings with smiles and looking forward to with working with President Trump.

    1. OK so you think treason doesn’t count if the foreign puppet is super incompetent. An interesting legal theory; let me know how it works out for you, traitor.

    2. TZToronto January 29, 2017

      Why are you here? Did you bother to read the article? Trump has pretty much abandoned the day-to-day running of the Executive branch and has given it to, no, had it taken away by, Brannon. No one thinks that Trump had input into his EOs ; he likely doesn’t understand them beyond their purported purpose. He’s a linear thinker–The wall will keep Mexicans out. Period. He can’t see the consequences of keeping Mexicans out. His EO on Muslim immigration will keep Muslims out, but he can’t envision the reaction of Muslims worldwide to that action. In fact, he doesn’t care. All Trump is at this point is a signing machine. Brannon puts something in front of him, and Trump signs it. He’s not fulfilling him promises. He’s doing Bannon’s, and probably Putin’s, bidding–and he doesn’t even know it.

      1. itsfun January 29, 2017

        Why are you such a damn fool? How has the wall in Israel worked? What did President Trump campaign on. He is doing what he said he would do. Take in all the damn terrorists you want in Canada. One thing for sure is we don’t need a foreigner telling us how to run our country. Stay in Canada and preach your socialist BS there.

        1. TZToronto January 29, 2017

          If you’ve been looking at this site for more than a short time, you’d know that I am an American, and I have just as much right to criticize the Trumpenfuhrer as you have to criticize me. You have a right to be an idiot–just like your Lord and master Trumputin. Unfortunately, your Lord and Master got elected President, and you’re only slightly less loony than he is.

          1. kep January 29, 2017

            You say you are American, but you talk like a communist

          2. TZToronto January 29, 2017

            You and itsfun are demonstrating your ignorance. There are many (well, not so many) Americans who are communists. I don’t happen to be one of them. Trust me when I say that no one here considers your comments worthy of serious consideration.

          3. itsfun January 29, 2017

            Who really cares what you think of our comments.

          4. itsfun January 29, 2017

            You also have the right to be a damn fool like your hero crooked Hillary.

  12. TZToronto January 29, 2017

    If anyone wants to read about what’s happening in America today, read It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. It has a blustering, boorish President and his Bannon-like controller. Constitutionally-guaranteed rights vanish, as do people who oppose the “government.” Read it, please.

  13. Todd Nelson January 29, 2017

    Bannon works for Trump, period. Obama was George Soros ventriloquist dummy. Stop whining about the enabler of a sexual predator losing the presidential election. The fiction in this article is astounding. One thing Donald Trump is noted for in his business dealings has always been his being a hands on big picture manager. He delegates authority to those he has hired for their expertise in certain fields to get the small details taken care of. This article is written by a bitter person who has a great fantasy life, but wouldn’t know the truth if hit by it. And is being hit by it daily as Trump keeps making good n his campaign promises. Apparently, the left can’t understand one who does what he says he is going to, because none of the left leaning legislators ever do anything like that.

  14. Michael Lopez February 18, 2017

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  15. Aaron_of_Portsmouth March 7, 2017

    As I write this, Bannon is fully in charge in a shadowy way, skillfully manipulating Trump and using Trump’s ego as the key. He’s the evil embodiment of the kindly wizard behind the curtain, of movie fame.


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