The resignation of Donald Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn Monday night is the latest sign of turmoil and incompetence from the White House. His resignation apparently became inevitable after The Washington Post reported that, despite his denials and the denials of Vice President Mike Pence, Flynn had indeed discussed sanctions imposed by President Barack Obama during a late-December phone call with the Russian ambassador, a possible violation of the Logan Act.
But it seemed to be the follow-up report that the White House had been warned of Flynn’s deception in January — and of the conclusion that the deception made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail since the Russians knew he had lied to his superiors — that finally forced him to resign.
The ineptitude on display here might be comical if it weren’t so serious. At 5 p.m. Monday, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway insisted that Flynn had “the full confidence of the president.” Literally moments later, White House press secretary Sean Spicer issued a statement saying, “The president is evaluating the situation.”
By 11 p.m., Flynn had submitted his resignation.
Flynn’s ouster is a good thing. He was monumentally ill-suited for the position of national security adviser — a key role responsible for weighing a flood of information from intelligence agencies and keeping the president informed and advised about a host of potential issues and brewing crises.
His ties to Russia alone should have been disqualifying. Flynn had actually been on the payroll of Russia Today — a Russian propaganda organ — and once dined in Moscow as Putin’s guest of honor. He was fired from his previous tenure of director of the Defense Intelligence Agency because of his disastrous management style and tendency to make up information to justify his positions, which DIA officers referred to as “Flynn facts.”
Like his boss, Flynn also had a habit of retweeting outrageous (and false) conspiracy theories.
But as Flynn takes his leave, it’s important to remember that he was, at best, only the third most dangerous and unstable person in the administration — behind Steve Bannon and, of course, the president himself.
Before he was tapped to co-lead Donald Trump’s campaign in the third major shakeup the candidate went through, Steve Bannon was anything but a household name. Unless you were familiar with the far-right Breitbart News or other conservative propaganda efforts, you most likely had never heard of the man.
Given his growing influence in the Trump White House, it’s important to learn who Steve Bannon is, and, more importantly, the apocalyptic beliefs that drive him.
Bannon is a leading promoter of the white nationalist movement in the United States and a propaganda master. His eclectic rèsumè boasts an improbable collection of careers: naval officer, investment banker, Hollywood producer, documentary filmmaker, conservative journalist. He somehow even ended up owning a portion of the rights to “Seinfeld” reruns, which provides him with a hefty stream of income.
So, who is Steve Bannon, and what does it mean that he has the ear of the most ill-informed, naïve and gullible president in history?
First and foremost, he is extremely anti-establishment. He’s like the Joker in The Dark Knight: “Some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”
Does that sound like hyperbole? An exaggeration? I know, but I don’t think it is. In 2013, Bannon gave an interview to Ronald Radosh in which he boasted of being a “Leninist.” Radosh asked what he meant, and Bannon said, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
He also is an adherent to an apocalyptic version of a theory known as “The Fourth Turning.” The theory, posited by historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, says that history moves in 80- to 100-year cycles capped by cataclysmic events that destroy the existing order and create an era of change.
Bannon thinks the 2008 financial crisis marked the latest Fourth Turning — and he’s very excited about the creative destruction that could bring about — including a global existential conflict between the Middle East and/or China and the West. Bannon seems to think a full-scale war is not only inevitable, but necessary. And he seems open to provoking one if it doesn’t happen on its own.
In a 2014 speech at the Vatican, Bannon said of the conflict with radical Islam, “There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global. Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is, and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it, will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”
In 2016, Bannon predicted, “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years. There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those. They come here to the United States in front of our face — and you understand how important face is — and say it’s an ancient territorial sea.”
And, again, Bannon sees these open conflicts as things to embrace, not avoid. They are necessary events in his mind for the Judeo-Christian West to reassert itself.
“You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China. Right? They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian west is on the retreat,” Bannon said last year.
So, yes, the fact that Michael Flynn is gone is good. A Russian sycophant with a penchant for fake news should not be the president’s chief national security advisor. But Steve Bannon should be even more concerning. He is, after all, the man who said this to Michael Woolf, after the election and after his White House appointment: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”
Radmacher is former editorial page editor of The Charleston Gazette and The Roanoke Times. This Land is a weekly column produced by Appalachian Mountain Advocates.