Steve Bannon

The proposition – that many mainstream Australian journalists might be less intelligent than a lot of their readers – got a bit of a workout yesterday, when the New Yorker Festival cancelled the appearance of Breitbart culture warrior and former Trump consigliere Steve Bannon, after a storm of protest and withdrawals. The move coincided with an entire Four Corners program devoted to the man, something the show rarely does.

“You can’t ignore Steve Bannon,” the Four Corners publicity said. Many begged to differ, just as they did with Leigh Sales and Katherine Murphy, who berated the New Yorker Festival for “surrendering” to the mob, and then felt the fury turned on themselves. In the middle of it all, Tonightly, decided to trash some of its goodwill with a less than sparklingly original comedic disquisition about how left identity politics made Trump possible.

More on Tonightly below, but what was common to the journalistic interventions and the festival was a naïve reflectionism. We don’t make people important, they say. We simply cover people the public think are important. Rubbish, of course, obviously so to anyone with the most basic introduction to a bit of material political theory. But most of our journos skipped so many classes, and spent so much time in the bromide camera room huffing chemicals, that they know nothing, and may have cognitive impairment, and are thus liberals.

Can’t ignore Steve Bannon? The only reason Four Corners could get him is because he’s a broken down political hack, whose White House internal power play failed, leaving him to wander among the nativist-ethnonationalist sects scattered across the West, trying to foment right-wing revolution in countries he doesn’t understand. The interview was pretty interesting actually, but had he the sort of power that gave his words weight, we never would have heard it. Four Corners, meanwhile, got an ABC twofer – high profile, and a right-winger allowed to speak at length.

The New Yorker was clearly after something of the same. The issue has little to do with free speech – a magazine’s adjunct publicity festival, who cares? – and more to do with the lack of confidence The New Yorker has in its own standards. Bannon isn’t someone like, say, Roger Scruton (hardly an exact opposite, being an ex-tobacco industry shill ‘n’ all, but y’know), with some of the same ideas; Bannon is a propagandist and low-blow political fighter, whose tracts would never find their way into the magazine. Why invite him to such a festival? For the same reason other fests have animal churches, and wellness centres – because there is such an oversupply of the middlebrow that it has ceased to enervate, and so non- or anti-culture must be brought into it, to remind people of the feelings culture once gave them.

The same might be said of Jazz Twemlow’s – it takes skill to have a name that white, with the word “jazz” in it — bit on how the identity politics left produced Trump. Well, yeah, point taken in 2016. But the division and elitism of a lot of gender and race identity politics – knowledge-class values imposed by a rising class with the power to enforce them – only helped Trump, it didn’t make him. If that were possible, Pauline Hanson would be PM here, so annoying is our left identity politics. But we haven’t had a decade of no-recovery, and the US and the UK have. If the identity-politics left have slipped up in this regard, it’s in turning “whiteness” into such a concrete, crudesced thing, that people eventually take it on with pride, because there is no other way to live a concrete identity without going nuts.

Identity politics used to be of the right, while the left appealed to universal human values. For a while that reversed; now, as part of that process, identity politics has returned to the right. If you find it surprising that media etc figures show such tolerance for someone like Bannon, it is because culture has stopped doing the job of giving meaning, and kultur is taking over. If the media is history’s seismograph, mainstream journos are the pinheads recording the shock waves.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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