In the shadow of the phantom: Bob Rigg discusses the further deconstruction and degradation of democracy in the United States.

AuthorRigg, Bob

In mid-August 2017 Steve Bannon left the White House, amidst some confusion about whether he jumped or whether he was pushed. It now looks as though President Trump eventually supported the removal of Bannon, who he had initially wanted to appoint as his chief of staff, only to be dissuaded from doing so by the Republican Party establishment, which even then was inclined to view Bannon as a loose cannon.

After the GOP establishment strenuously objected to Bannon's proposed appointment as chief of staff, Reince Priebus was eventually transferred from the GOP head office to this post, with Bannon being appointed as senior advisor to the president. As it was never clear where these posts stood in relation to each other in the White House pecking order, tension between the two rival incumbents was predetermined from the outset. Eventually Priebus, a pallid figure who was manifesdy not up to the job, was given his marching orders, to be replaced by General John Kelly, who took upon himself the impossible task of introducing a modicum of law and order into the dysfunctional internal operations of the White House, which made the Wild West look like Swan Lake.

Trump eventually sacrificed Bannon, partly because he was out of favour with Kelly and the entire national security team, and, in my view, mainly because Bannon and Trump quiedy agreed that he would be far more useful to Trump if he was outside the White House, shaking up the GOP party establishment and mobilising and renewing the commitment of Trump's own base of support. While Bannon remained in the White House too much of his energy was being expended on infighting, especially with members of Trump's own family. Once he was outside the White House, he was a free agent: 'If there's any confusion out there, let me clear it up,' Bannon declared. 'I'm leaving the White House and going to war for Trump against his opponents--on Capitol Hill, in the media, and in corporate America.'

Profound antipathy

The profound antipathy between Trump and the Republican establishment, which had been pushed under the carpet to enable the Republican Party to pose as a cohesive political entity beneath the election campaign spotlights, resurfaced as soon as Trump took office, and has persisted into the present. At this stage a crucially important new player enters the stage on the far right. He is a mega-billionaire called Robert Mercer, who supported Trump's election campaign while, just as importantly, also funding the alt-right publication Breitbart News, which provided a platform for the far right populism embraced by Steve Bannon. Without the financial and political backing of Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, Bannon would today be just another lonely voice on the periphery of US politics. As the Mercers have recently withdrawn all of Bannon's funding, the truth of this is now painfully apparent to Bannon. Very few months ago he was a major actor on the US political stage. Now that he has been excommunicated, in the United States at least, the spectacle of the unkempt multi-millionaire explaining his global populist vision to the New York Times amid a halo of Italian oil paintings and five-star furnishings is self-evidently preposterous (with an apology to Vanity Fair). Without the immensely powerful backing of his American potentates it seems unlikely that Bannon, who does not speak any language other than English, will have enduring appeal to the European alt-right movement. He is a fish out of water. The historical resonance of the Nazi words Blut undBoden is much more powerful than blood and soil.

The Mercers did not confine their involvement to Breitbart News, in the form of $10 million. They also sponsored super political action committees supporting far right congressman Ted Cruz, as well as Trump, of course, with $13.5 million. They also provided John Bolton, the Rasputin of hard right US foreign policy, with $2 million in funding, and later backed him when he lobbied for the position of secretary of state.

Using highly sophisticated information-harvesting techniques pioneered by Cambridge Analytics, one of his own companies, Robert Mercer was able to analyse enormous quantities of Facebook data revealing considerable voter dissatisfaction with both major US political parties. Information harvested in this way was put to excellent use in the service of right-wing political campaigning in both the United Kingdom and the United States.

The finding of widespread US voter dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party, especially in the Rust Belt states once described by Hillary Clinton as her 'firewall', was the key to a GOP campaign strategy ultimately leading to the election of Donald Trump. Thanks to the intervention of Robert Mercer and his far right activist daughter Rebekah, Steve Bannon was appointed as Trump's campaign manager, while Kellyanne Conway for some time became the public face of the Trump campaign. Bannon and Conway were plucked out of relative obscurity into key positions in the Trump campaign and the Trump administration, thanks to their Mercer patrons, who live in New York with their $2 million model railway and hob-nob socially with the Trumps, who are far less wealthy than they are.

Surprise result

Mercer's company Cambridge Analytics actively supported the pro-Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom, amongst other things with analysis showing that many traditional Labour voters would vote for Brexit. Because Cambridge Analytics did not submit a bill for this service, UKIP could escape the application of British laws restricting financial contributions to political parties. Fortified by this data, the Brexit campaign was able to pull off a surprise victory.

Robert Mercer and Sheldon Adelson are both on the hard right of the US political spectrum. With encouragement from Adelson, John Bolton was able to circumvent General Kelly in his capacity as Trump's gatekeeper, and to suggest the addition to Trump's nuclear deal speech of the line saying that, if Congress failed to deliver the goods as far as Trump was concerned, he reserved the right to scrap the deal entirely. Adelson is one of the few key political players with Trump's personal mobile number. Whereas Adelson largely funds the Zionist Organisation of America out of his own very deep pocket, Mercer contributes generously from time to time. Adelson contributed $35 million to Trump's election campaign, allegedly via untraceable dark money groups. America's far right mega-billionaires were in no doubt about where Trump stood on the political spectrum.

Adelson has breathed new life into the hitherto relatively unknown Zionist Organisation of America, which he has converted into an increasingly powerful organisation whose aim is to overtake AIPAC, which Adelson believes is hopelessly mired...

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