This Halloween, many people are going to dress up as Steve Bannon, because they think he is the scariest person in the world. And as everyone knows, dressing up as the world’s scariest person is a lot of fun. It tells the world in no uncertain terms that you’re not really afraid, and to prove it, you are going to hide behind a rubber mask and demand candy from strangers.
Bannon was plenty scary as Donald Trump’s “chief strategist,” of course, but now that he has declared “war” on the Republican party and is recruiting an army of racist gasbags to challenge establishment gasbags for the privilege of gasbagging the American public—well, he’s gotten even scarier.
But the more I watch Steve Bannon in action, the less afraid I am of him, and the more concerned I am for him.
Let me explain:
I once knew a guy who did nine tabs of acid and came back from his adventure down the wormhole convinced that the world was going to end. Tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, probably the next day. Or the day after that. Pretty soon, at any rate, so get your affairs in order, he warned, or you might be annihilated with an unmade bed and fifteen bucks left on your Starbucks card.
He was scared, that guy, and he thought he was doing me a favor by warning me of my impending doom.
Bannon reminds me of that guy. Steve, I have come to realize, is not the most frightening person in the world; he is the most frightened. And because he is so afraid, he feels compelled to warn the American public about the monster he glimpsed at the bottom of his own personal abyss: a monster with the head of Hillary Clinton, the skin of Barack Obama, and the fashion sense of a Saudi Arabian housewife. Armed with several nuclear weapons and a tattered copy of the Koran, this hideous brown she-beast haunts poor Steve and drives him to say and do all sorts of ridiculous things, all in the name of saving Western civilization.
He has no choice, you see, because he has seen the enemy, and it is definitely not him.
Unfortunately, the burden of saving Western civilization is taking its toll. Just look at the man. He’s forty pounds overweight, his skin is blotchy, his eyes are sad and puffy, and he hasn’t had a decent haircut in years. Many people have speculated that Bannon is a raging alcoholic, because, you know, he looks like one. But it’s clear to me that Steve has been imbibing something much more toxic and self-destructive than single-malt scotch. It’s not just the conservative Kool-aid. Lots of people can watch Fox News all day long and not lose a wink of sleep. And plenty of people eat tax cuts for breakfast and still look good in a suit. Marco Rubio, for instance.
No, it’s something worse. I recognize that look in Bannon’s eye. It’s the look of a man who is trying desperately not to let other people know how terrified he is—by, conversely, warning others what they should be terrified of.
The question is: What mortal dread has Steve Bannon so shaken?
Is it really the prospect of living in a world over-run by people who tan better than he does? Or living in a country where people pray kneeling on a rug rather than sitting on a stool in front of a slot machine? Is it really an “administrative state” full of bureaucrats loyal to the idea of a one-hour lunch break and three weeks of vacation every year?
I think not.
No, my guess is that Steve Bannon is afraid of what he thinks he knows, based on the information and experiences he has absorbed thus far in his life. And, based on this knowledge, he has concluded that if he does not act like a complete asshole, everyone in the world will ignore him.
This is not an uncommon problem. Rush Limbaugh has the same affliction, as do Sean Hannity, Alex Jones, and Glenn Beck. Faced with the prospect of irrelevance, of being shunned by the herd, their heads begin to swell, their jowls loosen, they sprout an extra chin or two, and pretty soon these guys turn into barking bobbleheads who won’t shut up about all the things we, the people, should be fearing. If you boil it all down, though, they’re all saying the same thing, which is: Pay attention to me, goddammit, I’m yelling at you!!!
I don’t doubt their sincerity one bit. Why, InfoWars impresario Alex Jones is so afraid of the coming apocalypse that he has an entire website dedicated to selling survival gear and supplies for the end times. He does it as a public service, of course. First he informs people what they should be afraid of (the snake), then he sells them the remedy for their fear (the oil). You know, like a guy who sets your house on fire then offers to sell you a bucket of water—for fifty bucks, cash. You can’t argue that he doesn’t sell quality products, though. Among my personal favorites is his patented InfoWars Super Male Vitality serum (a real thing), which is going to be essential for aging white supremacists who want to re-populate the human race. Best of all, it’s gluten free! (Also real.)
But back to Bannon. I will grant that we live in strange times, and it is not unreasonable to be afraid of what is happening in our society. The problem with Steve Bannon is that he feels compelled to do something about it. The man wants to be a hero. Western civilization is on the brink, after all, and he has convinced himself that he is the only one who sees the situation clearly. For the rest of us, however, the world would be considerably less scary if Steve Bannon weren’t so motivated. If he weren’t so sure of himself. If he weren’t so . . . afraid. Of irrelevance. Of his own mediocrity. Of the demons he thinks he’s fighting, and of what he imagines might happen if he loses.
If you’re still on the fence about what to wear this Halloween, take into account that it’s probably scarier to be Steve Bannon than it is to dress up like him. Besides, if you really want to scare the beejeezuz out of your neighbors, go all in and dress up as America. There’s nothing scarier these days, and everyone will know by your ironic costume that you are not afraid to live in this country. Not really. Because you know in your heart of hearts that someone will somehow come from somewhere at some point to save us from ourselves.
Let’s just hope that someone is not Steve Bannon.