Alternately described in the press as a political Svengali, the id of President Donald Trump and the soul of the arch-conservative wing of the Republican Party, Stephen K. Bannon was the White House man many in the Jewish community both feared and loved to hate. During and after last year’s presidential campaign, Bannon’s Breitbart News was seen as the mouthpiece of the so-called “alt-right” coalition of white nationalists and die-hard conservatives which peddled conspiracy theories harkening back to tired racist and anti-Semitic tropes.
So it was no surprise that many breathed a sigh of relief last Friday when Bannon — reportedly at the direction of both Trump and his new chief of staff, retired General John F. Kelly — left the White House after seven months as the president’s “chief strategist.” But even though Bannon, an unrepentant America Firster who just days before his firing called for an old-school trade war with China, is out of the administration, it isn’t all that clear that much will change in the Oval Office.
If the firing of Bannon is an attempt by Kelly to rein in the discordant voices within the West Wing and thereby control the flow of policy prescriptions heading to the president, then it can only be good for the Office of the President. Part of the turmoil of the last seven months can be traced directly to the fact that for much of the time, Bannon, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus all appeared to be “counseling” the president without a single unifying filter. When Kelly came in as Priebus’ replacement, he was reportedly given that responsibility, as well as authority to effectively clean house.
Perhaps with Bannon gone and some of the other personnel moves already made — as well as those yet to come — the White House will finally be able to focus on trying to work with Congress to get something done. For example, even after the failure of the Republican effort for health care reform, there are still provisions of the Obama-era Affordable Care Act that need tweaking in addition to continued funding. And while we welcome the president’s calls for an overhaul of U.S. infrastructure and the rewriting of the tax code, none of that can get done without unified messaging and effective leadership coming from the executive branch.
To the extent that Bannon’s departure is another step in the righting of the ship that is the Trump presidency, the move is welcome. But neither Bannon’s departure nor any of the other White House personnel moves does anything to address the most chaotic aspect of the 45th presidency: the president himself. So long as Trump continues to tweet at 3 a.m., to praise the more questionable aspects of our society, and to sow discord and disorder on a daily basis, it will take a lot more than a professional West Wing to bring our country a sense of calm and confidence. JN