Don’t underestimate Bannon’s populist strategy

Steve Bannon. CC Gage Skidmore

Steve Bannon is pushing to increase the marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans. Bannon may be a hate-filled white nationalist in his heart, but being evil doesn’t automatically make you stupid. Progressives need to stop underestimating this man, and to start grasping his populist strategy.

Bannon knows that raising taxes on the rich — before the left gets to it — is the ticket to consolidating rightwing populism. Stoking racial prejudice and xenophobia is of course an essential ingredient, but it’s the combination of this with economic anxiety and resentment against the political class that completes the deadly cocktail of reactionary populism.

That’s why Bannon is so keen on pursuing the popular idea of raising taxes on the extremely rich. Of course, raising taxes (on the rich) is anathema to the GOP. Bannon has a high hill to climb to pass this.

But it could happen. It may be tempting to underestimate Trump, given his epic unraveling and his recklessness. Yet it remains a huge mistake to dismiss the power of populism in this moment. Democrats and liberals have a very bad and very consequential track record of underestimating Trump’s chances. This is because they did not — and still do not — grasp populist strategy.

Bannon has studied history. He has learned from the hatred-spewing white nationalists who came before him. Fortunately, his success is not inevitable. But neither is his failure — especially if liberals and the current DNC leadership continue to misread the populist landscape. (I feel like a broken record that no one in the DNC is listening to.)