by J.D. Roth
Last weekend, I watched American Dharma, the 2019 Errol Morris documentary that profiles political strategist Steve Bannon. Here’s the trailer.
This preview does an admirable job of encapsulating the film in just 2-1/2 minutes. Like all Morris documentaries, American Dharma is fascinating.
Because I deliberately try to steer clear of the news, I didn’t know much about Bannon. Hardly anything. I knew he was somehow related to the Trump presidency, but that’s it.
And because my political views are decidedly non-traditional — I’m a non-partisan small-i independent and/or small-l libertarian — I’m usually willing to give almost anyone the benefit of the doubt.
I don’t like Trump. I think he’s easily one of the worst presidents in U.S. history. But that’s not because he’s Republican. Some Republican presidents are good. Some are bad. Some Democrat presidents are good, some are bad. To my eyes, Trump is an awful president who just happens to be Republican.
All the same, I’m not one of those who believes “all Trump voters are racist”. I know that sometimes you have to make compromises. Sometimes you have to vote for somebody you don’t like simply because you like them a little better than the other option.
So, I went into American Dharma not knowing what to expect. I found it interesting.
Morris profiles Bannon’s rise to power, tracking his move from aspiring film-maker to chairman of Breitbart News to mastermind behind Trump’s 2016 campaign. Morris doesn’t badger Bannon. In fact, they have a reasonably open exchange, even though they clearly disagree with one another.
I actually found Bannon a somewhat sympathetic character. I don’t agree with his views, but I now understand more about the reasoning behind them. And I think he makes a compelling case when he argues that there’s a vast swath of people in the United States who feel abandoned, who feel as if the government does not represent them — and hasn’t for a long time.
To Bannon, Trump’s election was inevitable. To these disenfranchised voters — the farmers and mechanics and cafeteria servers of Middle America — Trump represents a voice who will speak for them. They don’t care that he often doesn’t make sense. And they don’t care that his aims are often what would once have been called un-American. They have somebody on their side.
By the end of the film, Bannon has made the case that there will literally be a violent revolution in this country if the political elite continues to ignore the vast middle. And I can’t remember whether this is explicit in Bannon’s statements or merely implied, but when you have a violent revolution, the previous rule of law no longer applies. The revolution is meant to overturn the established order, after all.
Bannon seems to believe that the U.S. Constitution is not sacred in any way. If it needs to be discarded in order for a “better” nation to emerge, then so be it. (Better as defined by Bannon and those who believe like him, obviously.)
It’s become very clear over the past few months that Donald Trump believes something similar. Trump doesn’t give a flying fuck about the Constitution. He’s doing what he was elected to do: serve his those who voted him into office. The Constitution is a nuisance to him rather than a guiding document.
And today, as his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol, it was very clear that they don’t give a flying fuck about the U.S. Constitution or the rule of law either.
I have no idea what happens next. I suspect that calm will be restored, Biden will assume the presidency, and Trump will fade to oblivion, forever remembered as one of the country’s worst presidents. But I could very well be wrong.
Whatever happens, I wish people on all sides would take the time to listen to each other. The Right speaks and the Left doesn’t listen. The Left talks and the Right has deaf ears. They talk past each other. They use inflammatory jargon that serves to foster disagreement rather find consensus. It’s baffling.
Find somebody who disagrees with you. Sit down with them. Have a rational conversation. You’ll learn they’re not an idiot. They’re not evil. They’re simply another human being trying to find their way through life. And they happen to disagree with you a bit on how that might best be accomplished.
Updated: 06 January 2021