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Editor’s Note: I originally wrote this back on September of 2017. I decided to rerun it today because, well, things haven’t changed much. Steve Bannon is out of the White House, and he’s also out of Breitbart, but we still have a bit of trouble with people in High Places who look in the mirror and, somehow, see God. Or, rather, think they do.
Okay, this one’s going to be a little complicated. In the next few paragraphs I’m going to talk about Steve Bannon, Dante, eternal damnation, and DCI Jane Tennison as played by the great Helen Mirren.
And strangely enough, they’re all going to fit together…courtesy of “The Street.”
It will all be clear shortly.
Now, let’s start with Steven Bannon. As I write this, he’s back at Breitbart making life miserable for his various enemies, or trying to, at least. And, honestly, I’m glad I’m not among his enemies. He seems like the sort of individual who would make revenge a hobby, if not a full time calling.
It isn’t quite clear to me what happened to him at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I’m guessing, though, that the Trump White House, like all centers of government, can be best described as a place where various ideologies strive for mastery. The question is, what are the factions involved? Who’s fighting, and losing? What belief systems are present?
Well, there’s Trump himself, of course. It is hard to say what his ideology is, though I’m sure it’s safe to say that whatever he believes involves Trump himself. He is the ultimate Trumpist, and his own greatest fan.
Then, there’s the old school Republicans, like Mike Pence, though exactly where they stand in the game has never been clear to me. Sometimes it seems as if they’re learning to manipulate Trump and thus control the government. Other times, they seem as clueless as the rest of us.
After them, I think the billionaires come next, that is, the vastly wealthy men and women who stand behind Trump, and who today are the majority stockholders in that curious (criminal?) enterprise we call today’s GOP. I’m guessing, by the way, that they’re winning the battle for influence in the Oval Office, but that’s just a guess.
Then, there was Bannon…
What is Bannon? I mean, in terms of his ideology? Well, from a purely theoretical standpoint, that can be a little difficult to say. Sometimes he, and Breitbart, seem downright fascistic. Other times, merely populist.
Whatever word you use, though, we on the left cannot help but find it…and Bannon…detestable. Bannon’s easy acceptance of racism and white nationalism, his embrace of elements that can only be called Nazi, his amoral opportunism masquerading as realpolitik, and, above all, his fundamental nihilism (he is on record as applauding the idea of social chaos) all strike us as vile. He is our complete and utter antithesis. He is the consummation of everything that we despise.
Let’s give him this. He does believe in something.
Which may not be true some others in the Trump administration.
Now, I’m going to switch to TV.
One of my very favorite police dramas is Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren. Of all the Prime Suspects, my favorite episode is “Errors of Judgment,” (1996). If you haven’t seen it, give it a glance sometime. Worth the effort.
In “Errors,” Jane Tennison (Mirren) finds herself in a deadly game of cat and mouse with a brutal gang leader known as “The Street” (brilliantly played by Steven Mackintosh).
The Street is a total psychopath. His main business is drugs, but his recreation is killing, usually in the most horrible way possible—using guns, knives, or, at one point, two enormous dogs who rip their victim apart.
In short, he is Tennison’s complete and polar opposite. Where she represents the forces of civilization, he is total barbarism. Where she is, in her way, humane, he is bestial. Where she has within her a certain kindness, he is pure sadism.
In the climatic scene, the two …Jane and the Street…find themselves on a rooftop. They confront a third character, a corrupt policeman who has been using the Street to make himself look good. They face this third man, each demanding that he do something…either support Jane, or abandon her to the Street’s tender mercies.
But…he does nothing.
Slowly, the two…Jane on the side of the Angels, the Street in league with Demons…realize that they have something in common. While they are each other’s complete antithesis, they are alike in that each has made a choice. One has elected the Light. The other, the Dark. One has determined to be on the side of Good. The other, to be quintessentially Evil.
Opposite choices, but choices.
The Third Man, however, has never made any such selection. He serves neither Heaven nor Hell. He is simply for himself.
And that is a terrifying thing.
Now, what has all this to do with Bannon?
Well, as I say, we …all of us on the Left…must reject his ideology. We must see it as something horrible. We must see him as horrid.
But, we must also admit he has made a choice, just as we have. We may not like his choice, but we have to admit he’s made one.
Okay, but who is actually gaining influence in the White House, now that Bannon is gone? Who is winning there?
As I say, I’m guessing it is the Billionaire Boy (and Girl) Club—that Dark Money network whose public face is, perhaps, the Koch Brothers, or maybe Betsy De Vos, but whose power is enormous and growing.
And we know they, too, do have an ideology…of a sort. But it is a kind of negative ideology.
They may call their belief system “anarcho-capitalism,” or “Objectivism,” or “economic liberty,” but it all boils down to the same thing. To wit, it is that anything at all that limits their own personal power…regulations, law, responsibility to the common good, even the most modest taxation… is wrong. It is quite literally, immoral.
For they, themselves, are the only subject of interest to them. They are the objects of their own worship.
Or, to put it another way, they are neither Jane nor the Street, but rather the Third Man, indifferent to God and Lucifer, there on the rooftop and storm.
Oh, but I never mentioned Dante.
Let me explain that now. In The Inferno, just before he enters Hell itself, he finds that Hades has a mudroom, a front porch, just outside the gates.
And in that place, in that vestibule, he discovers the souls of opportunists…men, women, and angels who took no stand in the battle between sacred and profane…
They spend all eternity chasing the wavering banner of egotism and self-interest through the murky air, while wasps and maggots feed upon their wretched flesh.
I do not believe in hell. But you must confess…it, and Dante’s journey there, provide powerful and instructive metaphors.
Metaphors which, alas, may not be perceived…
By those men and women, rich and powerful, who look into a mirror…and see not human faces, as vulnerable and fallible as any others.
But, rather a cathedral, bright with candles..
And glittering with gold.