You’d hardly be human if you didn’t feel a twinge of glee at the fall of Steve Bannon. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, you might say. Bannon’s resignation from Breitbart News might even restore your faith in the resilience of democracy—but it shouldn’t.
However delicious the ignominious fate of the man who painted himself as Svengali to the dummy in the Oval, Bannon’s fast descent from savior to pariah illustrates structural rot in the machinery of the republic, wrought by a Supreme Court whose majority acts in the favor of aspiring oligarchs. Sure, Bannon set his fate in motion through his own hubris. But ultimately his crash stemmed from the whims of a single donor family, as did his rise.
Without Rebekah Mercer, daughter of hedge-fund billionaire Robert Mercer, Bannon would never have secured his top spot on the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump. Without Mercer, Bannon might never have been granted his role as the guiding force of Breitbart News, which, as he boasted to journalist Sarah Posner, he refashioned as “the platform for the alt-right.”
Were it not for Cambridge Analytica, the data firm founded by Robert Mercer, Trump, the hate-spewing, alt-right-feeding candidate, quite probably would never have been elected. The Mercers, in addition to infusing Breitbart with $10 million and installing Bannon as its leader, placed the bombastic propagandist on the data firm’s board.
The Mercers also bankrolled the making of the book Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer, riddled with inaccuracies and conspiracy-theorizing, that was produced by Bannon’s nonprofit Government Accountability Institute. As strategized by Bannon, the book’s core claims of corruption against Hillary Clinton were picked up and publicized by The New York Times and The Washington Post, setting in motion a narrative of dishonesty against the Democratic presidential nominee that she would find hard to shake.
In short, the Mercers bankrolled the racism and misogyny that brought Trump to power, and encouraged its spread. In the aftermath of the murderous mayhem of a white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, Bannon’s botched response led the Mercers to help accelerate his exit from the White House—already on his way out for his interview with The American Prospect co-editor Robert Kuttner—with the lure of backing Bannon’s dream of being the kingmaker who would, once and for all, vanquish the “establishment” of the Republican Party.
Even before Bannon’s embrace-the-racism-and-misogyny strategy blew up in his face with his backing of Roy Moore in the GOP primary for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat, the Mercers showed signs of backing away; in November, Daddy Mercer sold his shares in Breitbart to his daughters and disavowed the antics of the hate-mongering Bannon protégé Milo Yiannopoulos. However much they may enjoy the racism and the misogyny, the Mercers’ main aim is to win. The tipping point came when the publication of excerpts from Fire and Fury, the new book by Michael Wolff, revealed Bannon’s low opinions of the president and his family. In the book, Bannon is quoted calling Donald Trump Jr. treasonous, Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick,” and the president himself in potential money-laundering trouble.
It took only a phone call from the president to convince Rebekah Mercer to announce that her family would no longer back Bannon’s enterprises, according to The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Asawin Suebsaeng.
Oligarchy sides with power, and the guy in the nation’s top job has oodles more power than the guy who got him there.
Bannon may be gone, for the time being, from the national stage and electoral politics. But the Mercers, you can bet, aren’t going anywhere. They’ll continue to back candidates who either want to burn it all down and prove their power against the Koch brothers, their rivals in the game of right-wing, political moneyball.
This is how oligarchy works. This is America.