Review of reviews: Books
Book of the week
Devil’s Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency
by Joshua Green (Penguin, $27)
Back in late 2015, not everyone in the mainstream media was counting on a Jeb Bush–Hillary Clinton showdown the following November, said Alexander Nazaryan in Newsweek.com. In a cover story for Bloomberg Businessweek, reporter Joshua Green singled out Steve Bannon as “the most dangerous political operative in America,” because Bannon, then the chairman of Breitbart News, was busy pursuing a multipronged strategy to take down both establishment figures. In Green’s “addictive” new book, Bannon is cast as indispensable to Donald Trump’s surprising rise and triumph, a cunning, rough-mannered ideologue who—before and after becoming Trump’s campaign chairman—gave the candidate a cohesive worldview and stiffened his will to feed resentment of the status quo. Green’s hastily written book won’t be the last word on how Trump prevailed. Even so, “you won’t be able to put it down.”
If Green didn’t occasionally signal his distaste for Trumpian politics, “a reader might come away thinking Bannon was the book’s hero,” said Barton Swaim in The Wall Street Journal. Bannon is, after all, an underdog figure—a working-class Catholic and former Navy officer who talks his way into a Wall Street job, scraps his way to a fortune, then turns to toppling a smug elite. By 2012, he is running Breitbart, counseling Trump, and battling even Fox News in his bid to defeat the globalists and put the nation on an “America First” path, said David Catanese in USNews.com. Told in 2015 that Fox News’ Roger Ailes doesn’t approve of his methods, he sends back this: “Go f--- yourself.” Through Breitbart, he is activating an army of angry young men who spend hours a day on social media. By funding research for an anti-Hillary best- seller—and then feeding the dirt to The New York Times—he has damaged the Dems’ front-runner irrevocably.
Bannon, who has described some of his anti-government views as Leninist, “seems to share Lenin’s genius for building a secret party with radical designs,” said Bret Stephens in The New York Times. But the question Joshua Green’s “compulsively readable” book can’t answer is whether Bannon’s methods can work as a governing approach. We also can’t yet gauge the long-term impact of his historic alliance with Trump, said Marc Fisher in The Washington Post. Though it’s possible the two men permanently changed America’s course in 2016, “it’s also possible that history will settle on a more modest interpretation of events”: that Americans, for one election cycle, were simply fed up with business as usual. ■