The mountebank won

So the mountebank won. The electoral college system designed to protect slave owners did not redeem itself by protecting Hillary Clinton as almost everyone thought it would. Instead, it did as the founding fathers intended. It amplified reaction and the whitelash to eight years of President Obama. Now what?

The honest answer is nobody knows, not even the President-elect Donald Trump. We are in uncharted territory here. In the name of wanting its country back, a rancorous popular minority has handed the highest office in the land and the terrifying powers that go with it to man manifestly unfit for the position.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are said to be the five stages of grief upon bereavement. One is supposed to follow the other. Among those who thought it unthinkable, Trump’s election is inspiring much the same responses, but simultaneously and spiced with a generous dash of raw fear.

Will Trump take advice? Having steered to victory seemingly by no compass but his own, will he let others guide him now? The hope — a mix of denial and bargaining, perhaps — is that he will surround himself with a wise and accomplished team to whom he will delegate the task of making America great again and to whose judgement he will defer.

The early signs are not promising. He has yet to make his horse consul, but he has named — as his first appointment — Steve Bannon to be “Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President”.

If you were tempted to think that Trump’s crude appeal to America’s white nationalist id was simply an election tactic he would abandon once in office, Bannon’s elevation demands that you think again. This is a Rasputin figure. Trump may be a tabula rasa ideology-wise, as Obama suggested on Monday, but if Bannon is the guy who gets to do the writing on the empty tablet, be very afraid.

Here’s what John Weaver, a Republican strategist who advises Ohio Governor John Kasich, tweeted on Sunday: “Just to be clear, news media, the next president named a racist, anti-semite as the coequal of the chief of staff”. The latter, Trump’s second appointment, is to be Reince Priebus, now chair of the Republican National Committee, and supposedly some sort of consolation.

“I must admit I was a wee bit surprised,” the chairman of the American Nazi Party, Rocky Suhayda, emailed CNN. “Perhaps the Donald IS for “REAL” and is not going to be another directed by the usual “Wire Pullers” and does indeed intend the ROCK the BOAT?”

Republicans who want to believe in Trump point to the first half of Bannon’s resume: Navy, Harvard Business School, Goldman Sachs, all very establishment, at least on the shiny surface. They pay less heed to his role as chief propagandist for the so-called white supremacist alt-right and his description of himself as a “Leninist”.

“Lenin”, he said in a 2014 interview, “wanted to destroy the state and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” His weapons for achieving this extravagant ambition include, the digital Die Sturmer of Trumpism, of which he was executive chairman before becoming CEO of Trump’s campaign.

Getting ready to shoot nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, last year, Dylann Roof took pictures of himself with the battle flag of the pro-slave Confederacy. He gave his victims his reasons for killing them: “You’ve raped our women, you’ve stolen and you’ve taken over the country”.

The massacre triggered a national debate about the Confederate flag and whether it should continue to be flown on public property. Breitbart, which at one point devoted a special section to black crime, was having none of it. Scarcely were the bodies cold before it ran this headline: “Hoist it High and Proud: the Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage.”

Other choice headlines include: “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew” (an attack on the anti-Trump editor of the conservative Weekly Standard); “Gabby Giffords: the Gun Control Movement’s Human Shield” (about the Arizona congresswoman who was shot in the head while meeting with constituents); and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”.

You have to hand it Bannon, though. He’s a shrewd revolutionary. Breitbart is his tool for stirring up the grassroots, but where he has been really clever is in manipulating mainstream media. For this, he bankrolled a non-partisan research organisation, the Government Accountabilty Institute, to dig for dirt that would look plausible enough to chum the water for investigative sharks at outfits like the New York Times and 60 Minutes.

Work product included the book Clinton Cash purporting to expose the Bill and Hillary Clinton’s seedy money-grubbing and influence-peddling. The Times gobbled it up whole, and while much of it was subsequently discredited, the desired damage was done. A parallel expose aimed at the establishment Republican candidate Jeb Bush — Bush Bucks — received less attention only because the target imploded prematurely.

Second only “Make America Great Again”, “Drain the Swamp” was probably Trump’s most effective campaign trail catch line. So far he has only given the swamp a new alligator.

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