The Insanity Of The Steve Bannon Origin Myth

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

Steve Bannon: millionaire banker, right-wing media executive, white nationalist, warmonger, Trump strategist. How did he become the man he is? The leading theory makes very little sense.


The Wall Street Journal profiles Bannon and his roots today, seeking to find the origins of his personal philosophy, which spawned Breitbart and the Trump presidency. And this is the theory they advance: the formative event for Bannon’s political beliefs came when his father—a hardworking man who spent 50 years working for AT&T, accumulating as much AT&T stock as he could during that time in the belief that it would constitute a safe inheritance for his kids—saw the value of those shares crater during the 2008 financial crisis, and sold them at a loss in a panic. From the WSJ:

Marty Bannon, now 95 years old, still regrets the decision and seethes over Washington’s response to the economic crisis. His son Steve says the moment crystallized his own antiestablishment outlook and helped trigger a decadelong political hardening that has landed him inside the West Wing, just steps away from President Donald Trump.

“The only net worth my father had beside his tiny little house was that AT&T stock. And nobody is held accountable?” Steve Bannon, 63, said in a recent interview. “All these firms get bailed out. There’s no equity taken from anybody. There’s no one in jail. These companies are all overleveraged, and everyone looked the other way.”[...]

There were many factors that turned Steve Bannon into a divisive political firebrand. But his decision to embrace “economic nationalism” and vehemently oppose the forces and institutions of globalization, he says, stems from his upbringing, his relationship with his father and the meaning those AT&T shares held for the family.


Being outraged by the conduct of the financial and political establishment that created the financial crisis and upset that no major executives went to jail as a result: makes perfect sense.

Deciding that the appropriate response to the financial crisis is to help install in the White House a right wing, Wall Street-friendly billionaire who plans to dismantle the reforms put in place after the crisis: does not make sense.

The 2008 crisis that decimated Steve Bannon’s dad’s stock portfolio came as a result of our government’s failure to properly regulate a financial sector that had in place strong incentives for Wall Street to take huge risks in search of short term gains. This regulatory failure took place over decades under both Democratic and Republican administrations. But the fervor for deregulation of the precious free market is, by any honest measure, a Republican ideal that is still put forward by Republican officials at every turn. The United States political figure who most truly represents the rational response to the financial crisis is Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat who argues for increased regulation and lower risk in the financial system.


Steve Bannon is not Elizabeth Warren. Odd.

I am in no position to judge Steve Bannon’s honesty, so I’m willing to assume it’s true that the crash is indeed what spawned his political philosophy. If so, Steve Bannon is an insane man. Has he helped to fix the root causes of the 2008 financial crisis by guiding Donald Trump into the White House? No. He has helped to put in power an ignorant billionaire who has vowed to slash Dodd-Frank and other regulations designed to help prevent another financial crisis, and who has turned the regulation of Wall Street over to a coterie of Wall Street insiders and deregulation zealots. The booming stock market and the looming Trump-era deregulation will almost certainly make another financial crisis more, not less, likely.


Steve Bannon worked at Goldman Sachs. Steve Bannon is not uneducated. It defies belief that someone who understands Wall Street and capitalism and the failures of our political system and financial risk would rationally conclude that the thing to do in response to the 2008 economic crisis is to launch a caveman-style right wing website hollering about “Black Crime,” build a wall on the Mexican border, and turn the entire regulatory apparatus of the US government over to winking Goldman Sachs alumni. No. A decline in dad’s stock portfolio does not explain that. The simplest explanation for Steve Bannon’s actual political philosophy is “He is racist, xenophobic, and has deep-seated resentments and anger issues with origins that we can only begin to explain.”

Steve Bannon is rich. His dad will be fine. It’s the rest of us who need to worry now.

Senior Writer.