Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and nationalism: New London native Joshua Green discusses his best-selling book 'Devil's Bargain'
Of the hundreds of Donald Trump supporters that political journalist Joshua Green met during the 2016 Presidential campaign, most, when asked who their second choice would be, wouldn’t respond with the name of another Republican.
“It was often Bernie Sanders,” said Green, a New London native and author of the recently released No. 1 New York Times bestseller titled “Devil’s Bargain,” in a lecture at Evans Hall Thursday at Connecticut College.
His lecture, as well as his book, sought to factually explain the rise and future of nationalism in the United States.
Sanders, Green said, was a candidate “who would sport many of the same populist ideas, at least when it came to economics, that Trump would.” It was on this platform, which Green refered to as economic nationalism (the idea that the United States should abandon foreign trade deals such as NAFTA in favor of deals that would benefit American citizens), that Trump and Sanders were able to excite swathes of voters on.
But it was Trump, who was able to take a right-winged approach to this platform, and with it, won the presidential election, leaving the world in shocked bewilderment.
The reason behind all of it, Green argued, was Steve Bannon.
Bannon, who is regarded by many as the sinister background manipulator of Trump’s campaign, came to the public’s attention in 2015 when Green profiled him in an issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, which boasted the headlines, “This Man Is the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America” and “Steve Bannon runs the new vast right-wing conspiracy — and he wants to take down both Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.”
Bannon was then searching for a figure who could carry a populist right-wing message to the masses and into the White House, and Trump, ended up being that man.
“Certainly, some of (Trump’s voters) were motivated by racism, anti-Semitism, and a lot of them were white supremacists, but by and large, the people I spoke to didn’t seem to be motivated by that,” Green said.
“People like Mitt Romney and Mitch McConnell generally prioritized tax cuts to the wealthy, a hawkish foreign policy … crucially they sought to pay for these programs by cutting the entitlement programs that benefitted the poor, elderly, rural voters that were now the heart and soul of the Republican Party,” Green continued. “Bannon recognized that this agenda was vulnerable to a populist attack, and together he and Trump launched one.”
Green is both an alumnus of New London High School (1990) and Conn College (1994) – yes, Sean Spicer was also at the college during those years – and is currently the senior national correspondent at Bloomberg Businessweek.
Most recently, Green also joined CNN part-time as a political analyst.
Green met Bannon in 2011 after Green had finished writing a “contrarian” long-form profile on prospective presidential candidate Sarah Palin, stating that she “wasn’t a bad governor.” She had, after all, “balanced the state budget and raised oil taxes.” Bannon, who was simultaneously gunning to back Palin in a presidential position, was impressed with Green’s story and invited Green to meet him.
“Bannon himself was a very striking figure,” Green said. “(He) was this vivid disheveled character, brimming with vigor, wearing a military field jacket, who had a very interesting view on politics at that time and was espousing hard-right populism.”
For the next few years, Green had kept an eye on Bannon as, behind the scenes, he plotted to shake up the Republican party.
Switching back onto the topic of Trump, Green argued that he wasn’t just “an empty vessel or someone whose marionette strings were being pulled by Steve Bannon as people were lead to believe.”
Trump also believed, on a visceral level, in the populist agenda that was sweeping the United States by storm. In combination with that, Trump also dictated the media coverage, leaving those in the press blind to the “seductive powers of his pitch.”
“I interviewed (Trump) in 2016,” Green said.
“And he told me that he had just told Paul Ryan that ‘There was no way a Republican would beat a Democrat when a Republican was saying ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying ‘we are going to keep it and give you more.’”
“It struck me that this was a shockingly acute observation by somebody who wasn’t in the business of politics,” Green said. “Trump recognized the flaw in his own party’s agenda. Republicans were offering a bad deal. And Trump, a consummate deal maker, was going to offer a better one.”
Building on these ideas throughout his lecture, Green, while also stating that Trump has not held up to the economic promises that he campaigned on, ended his lecture by asking a bigger question: Where is the next chapter in U.S. nationalism headed?
"I have learned the hard way that it doesn't pay to make predictions in U.S. politics. But it does seem entirely possible, however, that the future of economic nationalism lies not with Republicans but with Democrats," Green said.