JOSHUA GREEN — DEVIL’S BARGAIN — 2017
The book is a guide through the complicated career of Steve Bannon and the controversial contradictory erratic career of Donald Trump. And what’s more how the two came across each other and bonded together and are now like the hen and the egg in the shape of the puppet and the puppeteer, the sorcerer and the sorcerer’s apprentice, and we could think — as a perfect antagonistic image — of Jachin and Boaz (from right to left) the two pillars of Solomon’s Temple: “According to Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews, Boaz (Hebrew bōʿaz “In him/it [is] strength”) stood on the left when entering Solomon’s Temple, while Jachin (Tiberian Hebrew yāḵîn “He/it will establish”) stood on the right, and the two were made by Hiram.” And the Old Testament is just as clear as the Roman-time historian: “2 Chronicles 3:17 New International Version (NIV) 17 He erected the pillars in the front of the temple, one to the south and one to the north. The one to the south he named Jakin and the one to the north Boaz.” And two notes tell us: Footnotes: a- Jakin probably means he establishes. b- Boaz probably means in him is strength. But Thomas Troward (1921) refers Boaz to Ruth and comes to a different interpretation: “Thus the two pillars typify Unity and the redeeming power of Love, with the significant suggestion that the redemption results from the Unity. They correspond with the two “bonds,” or uniting principles spoken of by St. Paul, “the Unity of the Spirit which is the Bond of Peace,” and “Love, which is the Bond of Perfectness.” And this interpretation is like the Christianization of the pillars by using a reference to the Old Testament itself, viz. Ruth and Boaz.
Why start with this reference which is not present in the book? Because this couple Bannon-Trump is so strongly bringing up images from Walt Disney’s Fantasia as well from the Old Testament, from what is seen as the basic reference in these two characters’ ideology, “Traditionalism” borrowed from the French occultist and metaphysician René Guénon (1886–1951) who brought together in himself Roman Catholicism, Freemasonry and Sufism, thus uniting the three Semitic traditions that are Christianity, Judaism (in the underground but acceptable form of Freemasonry that actually historically brought together Christianity and Judaism) and Islam (this last reference connected to Guénon will be in contradiction with the strongly anti-Islam position of Bannon and Trump as we will see later). The author does not insist enough on this point, and Bannon even goes further and injects into this united Semitic vision that developed in the Middle East from old Semitic traditions and Sumerian or even Zoroastrian traditions of Mesopotamia and Iran, the other religious descendant from this Iranian religious and philosophical hatchery, viz. the Four Yugas of Hinduism developed from old Sanskrit Vedas. The four Yugas are (with their timespans): 1- Satya Yuga equals 1,728,000 years; 2- Treta Yuga equals 1,296,000 years; 3- Dvapara Yuga equals 864,000 years; 4- Kali Yuga equals 432,000 years. We are supposed to be right in the middle of the first phase of this Kali Yuga. “We live in the Kali Yuga — in a world infested with impurities and vices. People possessing genial virtues are diminishing day by day. Floods and famine, war and crime, deceit and duplicity characterize this age. But, say the scriptures, final emancipation is possible only in this age.” And we are entitled to wonder what is coming next: “WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? It is predicted that at the end of the Kali Yuga, Lord Shiva shall destroy the universe and all the physical body would undergo a great transformation. After such dissolution, Lord Brahma would recreate the universe and mankind will become the ‘Beings of Truth’ once again.” (https://www.thoughtco.com/the-four-yugas-or-epochs-1770051)
This cyclical apocalyptic vision of the universe is by the way very similar to the Nordic mythology of the Ragnarok, or even the New Testament’s vision of the Apocalypse, the Revelation. Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are seeing the world, meaning here the American-centered world, on the verge of collapse. Robert Kuttner in his coverage of a telephone call he had from Bannon on Tuesday August 15, 2017, published in American Prospect on Wednesday August 16, reports Bannon saying: “To me,” Bannon said, “the economic war with China is everything. And we have to be maniacally focused on that. If we continue to lose it, we’re five years away, I think, ten years at the most, of hitting an inflection point from which we’ll never be able to recover.” (http://prospect.org/article/steve-bannon-unrepentant) The apocalypse may come in five or ten years, which means, China may become the dominant force in the world and the USA may become a non-entity, since it will no longer be the first power in this world. Trump is no philosopher or spiritualist thinker, so he sets this apocalypse in more political words: America will end, if it is not already the case, imminently if he, Trump, with the support of true Americans, does not make America great again by his protectionist policy of America first.
The book is for most of it a journalistic story about events with dates, places and participants of the surge and emergence of Donald Trump, his meeting with Steve Bannon and subsequent alliance, and the first six months or so of his presidency. It’s only in the tenth chapter that he tries to bring together a synthetic and compact summary of this “ideology-political-‘science’” vision enacted by the two protagonists. The historical vision is naïve since for them (Bannon for sure, Trump maybe) the world changed with the destruction of the Knights Templar in 1314 on the order of Philip IV, called the Fair (Philippe le Bel), King of France, and later on the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 historically known as the Treaty of Westphalia that ended the thirty years’ war between the Catholic and the Protestant entities in the German Empire. It also gave independence to Switzerland from Austria and the Netherlands from Spain (whose king was the Emperor of the German Empire). In this same historical line Bannon brings together René Guénon, as already mentioned, Julius Evola (1898–1974) who inspired Benito Mussolini, and an eclectic religious palette from his very traditional Tridentine Catholicism (Council of Trent, Italy, 1545–1563) to the Hindu concept of cyclical time, as I have already mentioned, and a little bit of Zen Buddhism, that particular spiritual meditative form of Buddhism developed in Japan that may have a strong nationalist coloration. If you add the nationalist trend of their thinking you have the skeleton of their Traditionalism that makes them consider the world is changing in their direction. They consider they are part of a vast (global?) movement that brings them together with English Nigel Farage of UKIP, French Marine Le Pen of National Front, Dutch Geert Wilders of the Party of Freedom, and American Sarah Palin and the Tea Party. Apparently Joshua Green seems to have overlooked Austrian Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party of Austria, and he could have added the Polish brand or the Hungarian breed of such extreme right nationalistic anti-(im)migrant and traditionalist Catholics to the basket, though he adds Vladimir Putin and his ideologist Alexander Dugin. This addition is in fact opportunistic because there is not one single common point between Vladimir Putin’s reassertion of Russian national pride and power and Eurasianism on one hand, and the American nationalist protectionist hegemony of Trump on the other hand.
As a matter of fact, it is in the last chapters that this book becomes interesting. Bannon-Trump ideology is defined as based on
1- traditional Christian faith strongly inspired by Tridentine Catholicism to which they nostalgically want to refer (note that implies a clear rejection of Judaism and Islam);
2- the rejection of the rise of secular modernity in the West (with two contradictions since Trump would not have become and would not be the President he is without that secular modern world and its communication tools like Twitter on one hand, and the fact that they meet here with extreme Islam and Sufism that reject this very secular modernity);
3- a strong reference to Catholic social subsidiarity (Pope Pius XI and his 1931 Encyclical, Quadragesimo anno, that is in phase with small-government conservatism, though there is then a contradiction since Trump is using the federal machine to bring up the societal transformation he is dreaming of like the famous Mexican wall, the infrastructure plan, the repealing and replacing of Obamacare, the tax reform, etc., though pushing down onto the states all federal expenses he wants to get rid of);
4- the condemnation of and attempt to bring down the encroaching globalism that has been developing in the world over the last fifty or seventy years (with a contradiction again since he wants to bring the USA back into the dominant seat in the world and impose an American-oriented globalism);
5- an absolute opposition to the civilizational jihad personified by the migrant crisis brought around by the will of Islam to reject and destroy the Western world and civilization (with another contradiction here in the desire to have an alliance with Sunni Arabs — not Muslims — against essentially Shia Muslims — who count hardly any Arabs — and what’s more his apparent decision to widen and increase the military intervention in Sunni Afghanistan, mostly Shia Iraq against Sunni Isis in alliance with Sunni Kurds and Sunni Syrians against the Shia Syrian government and in contradictory relation with Sunni Turkey: nothing is simple in that area);
6- the strong triple reference to borders that have to be revalued and strengthened, currency that has to be nationally defined, and military and national identity (which defines when implemented in the American context a strong protectionist, nationalistic and interventionist vision, conception and imposition of the USA as the master of the world);
7- a direct call and incitation to act directed to all the traditional right movements covered by the term alt-right that counts all conservative movements from the Tea Party to white nationalists, white supremacists, KKK, various movements defending male domination at all levels of society and other racial-minded movements that defend a return to the values of the past (and here the contradiction has just exploded in Charlottesville because this incitation is the ferment of some civil problems that some have called riots, upheavals, civil terrorism, and many other horrors like these people chanting “Jews will not replace us” on the Friday night torch march).
8- The last element that the author seems to underestimate is the reference to the blue collar working class, those workers who only have a high school degree for most of them and who see the transformation of our modern world as purely evil for them since it pushes them aside.
Sure enough the book in its conclusion sees the themes it has developed coming to a dead end, an impasse, a blind alley, but not yet Charlottesville that happened after the publication of the book, and Charlottesville is a complete and dangerous stalemate in which social upheaval is possible, in which the President stubbornly refuses to remain within the presidential tradition of the USA represented for example by the two ex-Presidents George Bush and George W. Bush’s joint statement. This situation brings down the attempt to have some kind of coordination between the White House and the CEOs of most Silicon Valley firms and industrial corporations in order to rethink the problem of outsourcing various productions and bringing them back to the USA. The numerous CEOs that resigned from these commissions or committees brought up their dissolution by the President that registered his inability to go on with this plan and in a way his obstinacy at refusing what some demand him to do: apologize and condemn without any fuzziness the extreme right movements that started the confrontation in Charlottesville with the Friday night torch march that was both not announced beforehand and directly referring to the same kind of marches in the USA in the various lynching operations of the KKK or other racist movements, or even the pogroms against black ghettos for decades after the Civil War and up to very recently. To defend the statue of Robert E. Lee was contextual enough to bring back the memory of slavery and then segregation and then all kinds of extreme racial discrimination. And those are facts now, since the pictures and the recordings of these sorry events have been brought up to us thanks to modern technology. Luckily we will in no way move towards some kind of regressive reactionary retroactive going back to the world when we only had smoke signals and tam-tams to communicate “long distance.”
The book is full of information and thus extremely useful, but it is maybe too much journalistic and it has by far been overtaken by events we can only regret and condemn, events in which Steve Bannon or Donald Trump have not taken the proper stand.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU