The downfall of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s philosopher king

Steve Bannon, the American president’s combustible former chief strategist, has gone down in flames, accused of milking a political fund for personal gain. It’s not the end we’d have expected, says Jane Lewis.

News that Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has been arrested and charged with fraud is bound to have ruffled a few feathers. Bannon may be yesterday’s man in US politics, but he still sits at the centre of a global “spider’s web of rightwing activists and politicians”, says Tortoise Media. Along with three others, Bannon is accused of milking the $25m “We Build the Wall” fund, says The New Yorker – allegedly “siphoning” off more than $1m from donations made by hundreds of thousands of Americans, and “hiding payments through a shell company”. Bannon denies the charges. 

A taste for the high life

For years, Bannon – a former naval officer, Goldman Sachs banker and documentary-maker – has been promoting himself as a “thought leader… deeply interested in history, philosophy and economic supply chains”. Yet if these charges are true, the “would-be philosopher king” would stand revealed as “just another grifter looking to exploit Trump’s supporters” for his own gain.

Bannon, 66, used to boast that he had no worries on that score. “I’ve made enough money,” he told The Times two years ago. “I’ve got not just f*** you money, I’ve got f*** everybody money… I could live any lifestyle I wanted.” And for a “self-proclaimed man of the people”, he clearly likes the good things in life – living “in a state of perpetual motion” prior to his arrest, “flying private” when possible and staying in luxury hotels around the world. When arraigned last week, Bannon looked “as though he had just come off a long Grateful Dead tour”. He’d actually been “summering” off the coast of Connecticut on a $28m yacht belonging to exiled Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui.

Bannon’s life has been “a succession of Gatsbyish reinventions”, says Bloomberg. Born in Richmond, Virginia, into a working-class family, he joined the US Navy after graduation and dates his political awakening to the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis, where, from a vantage point in the north Arabian Sea, he saw “how badly Jimmy Carter f***ed things up”. 

Transferring to the Pentagon, Bannon took a masters in national security at Georgetown, before being lured by “the siren of Reagan-era Wall Street”. He specialised in media and entertainment mergers and acquisitions at Goldman Sachs, before moving to Los Angeles to become a Hollywood wheeler-dealer.  

Bannon’s move into libertarian politics gained him a sinister reputation he enjoyed playing up: “Darkness is good”, he liked to say. It also coincided with an emerging talent for tapping the really big money, says Forbes. Both Breitbart, an alt-right opinion site he founded, and later the Trump campaign were bankrolled by the billionaire Mercer hedge-fund dynasty. He was, however, always a divisive figure in Trump’s court and, when the president “cast his former Svengali aside” in 2018, the Mercers followed suit, says The Times. Since then, Bannon has “travelled the world” on “a quest for relevance and funding”. 

There was always a chance that “a character as combustible as Bannon” would “end up in jeopardy”, says The Times. But it was easier to imagine him “going out in a blaze of glory” making “grand declarations about revolution”. In this instance, Trump is probably right: Bannon’s downfall is a “sad event”. 

Recommended

I wish I knew what moral hazard was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask
Too embarrassed to ask

I wish I knew what moral hazard was, but I’m too embarrassed to ask

The term “moral hazard” comes from the insurance industry in the 18th century. But what does it mean today?
28 Sep 2021
Has passive investing created a stockmarket bubble?
Sponsored

Has passive investing created a stockmarket bubble?

Over the past two decades, investors have been switching from buying actively managed investment funds to buying passive funds that simply track a mar…
28 Sep 2021
Why are people panicking about fuel shortages?
UK Economy

Why are people panicking about fuel shortages?

With huge queues forming at petrol stations around the country, Saloni Sardana looks at the reasons behind the fuel shortage and asks how long it's l…
28 Sep 2021
Why investors should beware of corporate waffle
Investment strategy

Why investors should beware of corporate waffle

When top executives try to retreat behind impenetrable jargon, investors should be very sceptical, says John Stepek.
28 Sep 2021

Most Popular

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer
Investment strategy

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer

Inflation need not be a worry unless it is driven by labour market shortages. Unfortunately, writes macroeconomist Philip Pilkington, that’s exactly w…
17 Sep 2021
What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us
Inflation

What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us

As UK inflation hits 3.2%, Dominic Frisby compares the cost of living 50 years ago with that of today, and explains how debt drives prices higher.
15 Sep 2021
The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021