Rethinking Europe

Steve Bannon: Failed Crusader

What happened to Steve Bannon’s crusade to conquer Europe with nationalist anti-immigrant Trump clones?

Trump White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon (Credit: Don Irvine via Wikimedia)

Takeaways


  • What happened to Steve Bannon’s crusade to conquer Europe with nationalist anti-immigrant Trump clones?
  • The hard-right parties placed their hopes on Bannon’s supposed magic, but as it stands they are not trusted by the people.
  • After 1945 in France and Italy, giant anti-establishment communist parties won up to 30% of the vote. But they never entered government.
  • Simplistic narratives that predict the irresistible rise of the far-right should be handled with caution.

It seems only yesterday that the front pages of European newspapers were full of photos and nervous articles about the boasts of Steve Bannon, the former Donald Trump impresario from the 2016 campaign, heralding his decisive crusade on Europe.

His plan, in fact, was to reverse the historic thrust of the crusades. This time, it was to be Europe’s elites that were the target – not, as roughly a millennium ago, the origin – of the crusade.

Bannon’s promise was to facilitate the presumably unstoppable rise of Trump-like populists, whether anti-immigrant or EU-hating, to take the reins of political power all across Europe.

But last week in Italy, Matteo Salvini, the poster boy of Trumpism in Europe, was felled by his own arrogance and had to leave office following a failed move to trigger new elections.

Similarly, in two important state elections in the eastern part of Germany, Saxony and Brandenburg, the right-wing AfD party (Alternative für Deutschland) failed to produce the breakthrough which many predicted. It did not rise to score the highest percentage among all parties running in those elections.

The Christian Democrat and the Social Democrat governors who head up the two state governments, lost support, but will stay in power.

As a result, Angela Merkel’s coalition, despite its now widely recognized failings, can now breathe easy at least until the next Bundestag elections in Germany in the fall of 2021. Unless of course the SPD wants to start a new death march for itself by leaving the federal government.

Italy: Salvini is no Boris Johnson

In Italy, Matteo Salvini had tried to play on the Boris Johnson theme — hoping to collapse the Italian parliament and force a new general election.

Polls had shown Salvini and Lega emerging on top. But Salvini was stopped by parliamentary manoeuvres as the 5 Stars formed a coalition with the center-left Partido Democratica (PD), an establishment pro-EU party, which 5 Star leaders like Beppe Grillo with his watchword “Vaffanculo!” (Go F..k Yourself!) had previously regularly excoriated.

As it turned out, for MS5 and the PD the dangers of handing power to Salvini and, in their view, turning Italy back to the era of Mussolini’s populist march on Rome in 1920s, overwhelmed their mutual hostility and personal rivalries — at least for now.

Elsewhere in Europe: UK, France, Denmark

Alas, the hopes of those hoping that English politics might be going that way are likely to be disappointed. Neither Labour nor the LibDems nor the SNP have any idea of how to form a common front to block the Johnson-Farage take-over.

In France, Marine Le Pen was easily blocked by Emmanuel Macron in the 2017 presidential elections. And Denmark has a social democratic prime minister, as has Sweden — despite earlier claims that the Swedish Democratic and Danish People’s Party were poised to win power or at least some control over government.

There is no doubt that populist movements have been boosted by the 2009 financial crash. But this populism has often materialized on the political left or via green parties.

The hard-right parties may have placed their hopes on Steve Bannon’s supposed magic, but as it stands they are just not trusted by the people.

A historical perspective

In this context, it is also relevant to recall that, after 1945 in France and Italy, giant anti-establishment, anti-European, anti-immigrant communist parties won up to 30% of the vote.

As much of a threat as they were seen back then, they never entered government.

Similarly, to date at least, today’s anti-EU, xenophobic national populists may have similar support levels in some countries, but so far they have been stopped short of being put into office.

There simply is no Bannon magic, just the usual Trump-style hype. Simplistic narratives that suggest otherwise and which predict the irresistible rise of the far right should be handled with caution.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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