Steve Bannon’s Vision Of An Imperial Presidency Positions Us For War

Steve Bannon was at CPAC yesterday where he was interviewed along with Reince Priebus. As usual with Bannon, he had a number of provocative things to say, some that were scarier than others. But the vision that Bannon laid out would essentially concentrate even more power in the President, not just the executive branch. And it begins the preparation for the war that he envisions in the near future.

Bannon laid out three essential elements for his vision for the Trump/Bannon administration — national sovereignty and defense, economic nationalism, and the destruction of the regulatory state. He puts it this way, “I kind of break it up into three verticals of three buckets. The first is kind of national security and sovereignty and that’s your intelligence, the Defense Department, Homeland Security. The second line of work is what I refer to as economic nationalism and that is Wilbur Ross at Commerce, Steven Mnuchin at Treasury, Lighthizer at — at Trade, Peter Navarro, Stephen Miller, these people that are rethinking how we’re gonna reconstruct the — our trade arrangements around the world. The third, broadly, line of work is what is deconstruction of the administrative state.”

All of these three elements are within the purview of Presidential power and the Trump/Bannon administration will attempt to push the limits of Presidential power in each of these areas. With regards to national defense and sovereignty, we have already seen how Trump’ Muslim ban attempted to include green card holders who have every legal right to move in and out of the United States. The plan for mass deportations is part of that plan as well. There will be increases in the defense budget and, in the last few days, rumors of putting troops on the ground in Syria.

His plan for economic nationalism explicitly intends to, as he says, “reconstruct our trade agreements around the world”. Breaking existing treaties will be somewhat difficult and potentially require extensive negotiations. Crafting new trade deals is significantly easier and Trump/Bannon seem to be particularly focused on bilateral ones. Says Bannon, “People are starting to think through a whole raft of amazing and innovative, bilateral relationships — bilateral trading relationships with people that will reposition America in the world as a — as a fair trading nation and start to bring jobs.” Obviously, the US will have an upper hand in any trade deal negotiated with just one other country. And the details of that trade deal will be negotiated in the executive branch, probably with just a handful of trusted White House advisers and cabinet members. The negotiated deal will then be presented to Congress as a fait-accompli to simply ratify. On the other hand, it is hard to see why other nations would willingly engage in deals that would be so one-sided for the US, but Bannon seems to think it is possible.

Bannon believes we will need to fight a global war, probably against China and Iran, in the near future and we might as well do it sooner rather than later while we have the military advantage. In a speech in 2014 he said, “There is a major war brewing, a war that is 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.” But Bannon is also a student of conservative history and he very well knows the writings of the Austrian Ludwig von Mises. In one of his most famous books, “Human Action”, von Mises has this to say, “Economic nationalism is incompatible with durable peace. Yet economic nationalism is unavoidable where there is government interference with business…It is an illusion to believe that a nation would lastingly tolerate other nations’ policies which harm the vital interest of its own citizens.” To use a phrase from the Mises Institute, “economic nationalism is a philosophy of war.” This, in a nutshell, seems to summarize Bannon’s world view.

Which brings us to his third element — “the deconstruction of the administrative state”. Under our Constitution, the President is the head of the executive branch that “fully and faithfully executes” the laws of the land. The administrative state that Bannon wants to deconstruct is largely there to help and ensure that the President can do that. Federal agencies are how executive power gets implemented. By eliminating the devolved power in those agencies, more power will accrue to the President and his close advisers. It seems that Bannon’s view is that a handful of people will be able to fully manage the full power of the US government. The reality, of course, is that, as the power of those agencies is restricted, so is the ability of the executive branch to execute and enforce the laws. We can only imagine the abuses of environmental and labor laws that will occur. Power of enforcement will almost by definition devolve down to state and local authorities, especially law enforcement, and, eventually, to the courts. And in the courts, conservatives still have a stronghold that will only grow with further Trump appointments, even as Trump/Bannon have shown some inclination to defy court rulings. The power of the police state will also increase, as we see with the recruitment of state and local police forces into immigration enforcement and the threats to call out the National Guard to patrol certain cities. All this, of course, will fulfill the Republicans’ 70 year old dream of states’ rights and local control, while, ironically, at the same time concentrating more power in the President.

Bannon has rightly received criticism for his remarks about how “things will only get worse” for the “corporatist, globalist media”. But it was what he said about the three pillars of the Trump/Bannon administration that should really frighten us. National sovereignty will eliminate any possible enemies within our country, meaning immigrants and Muslims. The destruction of the administrative state will put more power in the hands of the President. Economic nationalism will simply be the opening battle without weapons. Bannon’s vision truly is a vision for war.

I’ve also written about this and other issues on my personal blog at]

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