“[Steve] Bannon’s political fall reveals a major weakness in his brand of right-wing populism: the overwhelming power wealthy donors have over the right-wing media and the Republican Party.” That’s according to the New Republic’s Jeet Heer, in a blog from last Thursday about the former White House chief strategist and executive chairman of Breitbart. It’s true, as far as it goes, and goes so short of far enough to qualify as dishonest.
In basic terms, the American premise is: You can go as far as your will and ability take you, and therefore where you end up measures your worth as a person; this is how society works, the premise goes, and it’s both natural and good, because those who amass the greatest individual power to shape society will by definition tend to be those most fit to wield it. Success both implies fitness and produces it. Moreover, it’s bad—illogical, irrational, immoral—to attempt to order things in some other way; the one human impulse society must not impede, above all others, is the individual’s drive to climb up and over everyone else. Nothing—not campaign finance law nor limits on heritable wealth nor redistributive tax laws nor robust business regulations nor collective bargaining agreements—ought to impose more than marginal restrictions on the individual’s ability to amass wealth and power, or to choose how or where or when or why to flex them.
Not only right-wingers believe this stuff, or actively reinforce it. Witness untold numbers of liberals either clamoring to stuff the reins of government into the hands of any billionaire businessperson who demonstrates the ability to perform “not being a complete sociopath” in public for more than a few seconds at a time, or passively accepting that to do so is the inevitable thing. Witness the frenzy to praise and claim and welcome to the resistance this or that billionaire who slices off a mathematically nonexistent portion of his or her fortune to benefit a cause a society organized by conscience and not avarice could see to a million times over by sensibly restricting the accumulation of that fortune in the first place. They deserve what they have, and what they can do with it, and we should be glad when they decide to be our friends, is the idea. Well, here we are.
Amazon founder, CEO, president, and chairman Jeff Bezos—a donor to Democratic campaigns and Democrat-friendly political causes, and also as of recently the wealthiest human being who ever lived—owns the Washington Post. So far as anybody knows, he has not yet fired any of the paper’s top executives for steering the paper toward advocacies unfriendly to his favorite politicians. Is that because literally anything in the world outside of himself restricts his ability to do so? Or because those executives have been more careful than Steve Bannon, a wet bag of cigarette butts that thinks it’s Judge Holden? Or because he just hasn’t wanted to yet?
The extremely rich Ochs-Sulzberger family has been passing control of the New York Times down to each new generation of milquetoast dullards since 1896; the paper even has to give the occasional writing gig to this or that Sulzberger moron on a rumspringa from pure parasitism. Facebook investor dingus Chris Hughes bought Heer’s own New Republic as a vanity project in 2012, Godzilla’d its editorial shop in a half-baked effort to remake it as a goddamn tech company, and then dumped what little was left of it for peanuts when he got bored. Billionaire psycho-libertarian vampire Peter Thiel crushed and destroyed Gawker Media (Deadspin’s former parent company)—a company he didn’t even have to bother buying first—for impolitely publishing things that were not even secret; for his next act, he will buy its corpse and delete it from the internet. Billionaire dolt Mark Zuckerberg, thanks to Facebook’s grip on the national attention span, functions essentially as the god of American culture; he could tinker with Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm for 10 minutes and wipe out the entire American media industry. Oh by the way, there are widespread rumors he will run for president in 2020, a campaign that would be covered entirely by news organizations existentially dependent on his platform for their survival.
Largely thanks to Facebook’s calculated or haphazard indifference to truth, an inheritance baby whose entire campaign was “I’m rich!” is the president; it’s the first job he’s had in his entire life. A right-wing oligarch ended Steve Bannon’s career because he said some shit she didn’t like; a right-wing oligarch could end your life, mine, my kids’, the entire human race, forever, if the far-off undeserving inheritor of North Korea’s dictatorship likens his dick to a baby carrot at the wrong moment.
We are all operating at the pleasure of unfathomably rich maniacs with lives and prerogatives increasingly alien to human existence. Steve Bannon deserves every shame and more, but his mistake was a common and terminally American one: believing any of those maniacs, ever, could be his friend.