Saturday, April 22, 2017

Bannon & The Beast (Or: Dharma & Our Purpose Here)


 
The following is the blog post to accompany our April radio show, “Schmidt Happens,” which was recorded 17 April 2017, and aired Saturday night 22 April 2017 on WBCA-LP 102.9 FM Boston, hosted by Rosemary Schmidt and special guest, Ellen Iorio.

 


 

 

Preface: Writing purely on topics of public concern; never seditious; but strictly out of the primacy of the concern for the health and very future of our democracy.  This blog was first drafted April 9th. This is another in a series of blogs that have been looking to make sense and explain the inner workings and motivations driving things behind the scenes at the White House. This time we look at the President’s Senior Advisor, Mr. Stephen Bannon.

 

As such, given Mr. Bannon’s interest in Dharma, or finding one’s calling or purpose in life, we opened the show with a few chords from the song, “Our Purpose Here,” by Ferron. In light of recent events, the radio show took quite a different turn, and as it turns out, maybe I should have been practicing “Karma Chameleon” by Boy George and the Culture Club instead!

 

In my endless efforts to avoid making the tracking of politics a part-time job, and find other distractions, we played hooky a couple of weeks ago, and went to see “Beauty and the Beast.” Once again, there I was in the movie theater, thinking of how alone the big ugly beast had become in his cold gray castle… and who came to mind, but Donald Trump. There was a time last fall when most respectable politicians wanted not too much to do with him. By the time Mr. Trump became the Republican ticket’s nominee, he had managed to alienate most of the other candidates by mocking them (Little Marco Rubio, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Crooked Hillary, etc.). Most of the establishment Republicans, let’s be honest, thought he had a snowball’s chance in hell of actually winning the race, and so they had also distanced themselves. He was just such a, such a… Such a Beast!

 

And then Trump found his well-read beautiful Belle, in the form of Mr. Stephen Bannon, who had just enough understanding of white, middle-American anger to shape his campaign message to win the game. And maybe “get by with a little help” from some friends (ahem, Russia). Until only very recently, Mr. Bannon has been commanding extreme levels of influence within the White House, by all accounts managing the ‘war room’ and laying out plans to implement each and every one of their campaign promises. It is worthwhile then to look at what makes Mr. Steve Bannon tick.

 

A couple of the articles providing the greatest insight have been the ones by Mr. Ron Radosh and Mr. Christopher Caldwell.

 


 

In Mr. Radosh’s article, Mr. Bannon is quoted as saying he is a Leninist:

 

“Lenin,” he answered, “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

 

When Mr. Radosh contacted Mr. Bannon subsequent to their conversation, he claimed he had no recollection of it ever taking place. Rather curious, how forgetful so many people in the administration have become.

 

I’ve drawn a lot of parallels between politics and team sports, and here is one more. Sometimes you run into a team that doesn’t actually have any plays of their own to run; their only game plan is to disrupt and break up the opponent’s plays. It can be very frustrating.

 

This also brings back to mind the Genesis Project, from the movie, “The Wrath of Khan,” designed to decimate everything and then re-populate it with new life.

 

Politics, both internal and international relations, survive in a delicate ecosystem, with hundreds of interdependencies. Jenga. Twister. Chess. From the outside looking in, stability looks simple and boring. However, in practice it is more like walking on a balance beam, and actually requires a great deal of grace, poise, balance, control, and discipline, despite whatever winds may be blowing. Stability and boredom can take a shocking amount of work!

 

 


 

Mr. Christopher Caldwell’s article echoes some of the same themes from Mr. Radosh’s article, quoting Mr. Bannon in a speech in February, where he spoke of “deconstructing the administrative state.” This tends to make me think the prior conversation really happened as described by Mr. Radosh. Mr. Caldwell provides a little more context for how Mr. Bannon came to be involved in politics.

 

Before entering politics (2016), and before becoming the Executive Chair of Breitbart News (2012), Mr. Bannon had a varied career: Navy officer, Goldman Sachs investment banker, Biosphere 2 Director, and Hollywood film producer. His trajectory seems to change after 2001. A number of articles talk of a strong nationalistic reaction to 9/11. Of course everyone was changed by 9/11. I remember thinking the day after that things had changed, and would never be the same again. His movies after 2001 take on increasingly more conservative, political themes. Despite his Goldman Sachs background, based on a talk he gave at the Institute for Human Dignity, he seemed upset by the big banks, and for the little guy:

 

“Think about it,” he said. “Not one criminal charge has been brought to any bank executive associated with the 2008 crisis.”

 

Mr. Bannon also had a long-standing working relationship with Ms. Julia Jones, collaborating on screen plays together for many years, with plans for a TV series about “seekers after the secret of the human self.” They reportedly parted ways (2009) when “he developed a propaganda-type tone” that she found “offensive.” Ms. Jones provides some of the most insightful observations in Mr. Caldwell’s article, where she is quoted as saying:

 

“He has a respect for duty.”

“The word he has used a lot is dharma.”

 

His focus on duty was attributed to his military career, but he reportedly learned about dharma in the Bhagaved Gita, an ancient book of Hindu writings. If karma is the fruit of one’s actions, then dharma might be described as one’s purpose in life. What’s not clear is whether that purpose is defined by the individual, or by the universe, a higher power, and which we must divine, intuit, and figure out.

 

Certainly, at work and in our personal lives, there is tremendous talk about feeling a sense of purpose and doing meaningful work, especially when addressing topics such as employee satisfaction and engagement.

 

Maybe Dharma is a little bit like the old Army slogan, “Be all you can be.” This is good, encouraging people to realize their full potential.

 

Maybe it’s like knowing what your job or your role is on a team. To go back to rugby, as the story goes, one night at rugby practice, right in the middle of running some drills, Coach Kevin O’Brien stopped everybody, and brought them in to a huddle, and asked them, “What is your job?” The players were a little perplexed, and tried to come up with the answer they thought he was looking for – to cover the weak side, to be in support, to win the ruck or maul…Finally, very frustrated with their answers, he gave up and told them: “Your job is to know what your job is!”

 

Back to the Bhagaved Vita - a very nice overview of it is provided by Mr. Cristian Violatti on his website: http://www.ancient.eu/Bhagavad_Gita/

 

After reading a little more about the Bhagaved Vita, it sounds like each of us has a calling in life, and we simply must follow the path that is meant for us. It’s not quite clear whether this purpose is defined internally or externally, and so perhaps we are all on a divine scavenger hunt, searching for clues. That still sounds pretty okay, but when you read a little more, there is the story of the warrior, Arjuna (whose dharma was to wage war), who didn’t want to go into war because he thought about the consequences, and how many people would be hurt in the process, but then one of the Gods, Krishna, explains to him why the war was necessary. So, he proceeds into battle, wins, and they live happily ever after. Okay, I have not read the entire Vita, and this is a gross simplification, but you can definitely see how such a story could be used to justify or rationalize just about anything. It’s a slippery slope. The problem is that individuals trying to divine their purpose here could justify just about anything in the name of their God, their nation, their beliefs, approaching that thin line where the end justifies the means. In the history of man, how many wars have been fought in the name of God or religion?

 

So, to put the two articles together, having the President’s closest adviser committed to breaking things down, and doing so because he sees it as his holy mission, his life’s calling, his purpose here, is a powerful and potentially dangerous combination. 

 

On the plus side, what we have observed so far of President Trump is that he is very adaptive. He is not afraid of taking big broad steps, making big huge mistakes, and changing course drastically. Most politicians are so very, very careful of changing their message or making mistakes. They live in constant fear of the double F-word, flip-flopping. President Trump clearly reserves the right to change his mind and change his message whenever it moves him. We are not used to this. Given that I didn’t like a lot of his original messages, maybe I’ll like the new improved ones better.

 

The other thing we know about President Trump, from watching him on The Apprentice, is that he is also not afraid to fire people. It’s interesting, the timing alone, and could be quite telling, that he removed Mr. Bannon from the National Security Council Thursday April 6, 2017, literally the day before Trump ordered the air strike on Assad’s air base in Syria, in response to the leader’s suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians.

 

The past couple of weeks have seen numerous reports of in-fighting within the White House and the increasing marginalization of Mr. Bannon. It began Friday, April 7, 2017, when Chief of Staff Reince Priebus reportedly ordered Mr. Bannon and Mr. Jared Kushner to work things out.

 

Maybe it’s time for Mr. Bannon’s curtain call.

 

 

Post-Script

Is it even remotely possible that Mr. Trump could have a successful presidency? Possible. In the same way that, at the end of the third quarter, I said it was possible for the Patriots to come back from their 28-9 deficit to win the Super Bowl. Possible. Not probable, but still possible because what lay ahead was still in the future and hadn’t happened yet.

 

Legions of angels seem to be dancing on the heads of pins lately.

 

Was cheating involved?

 

It’s blasphemous to even ask this question here in New England, but south and west of Albany, a lot of people still believe that in the past, somehow, some way, some balls had lost some air.

 

But I wasn’t talking about football.

 

Deciphering the degree to which Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia is an imperative to our Democracy. Yes, they seem to have had a falling out lately. Mr. Putin may not have expected Mr. Trump to be this unreliable. All those times that Mr. Trump called Ms. Clinton “Crooked Hillary,” maybe she should have borrowed a line from Pee Wee Herman: “I know you are, but what am I?”

 

You know that things have devolved to new levels when you start quoting Pee Wee Herman to analyze politics.

 

Meanwhile all of the chaos and infighting puts us at continued risk. There is danger everywhere we look: North Korea, ISIS, Syria, Iran, Iraq. This brings to mind a line from “Uncle John’s Band,” by the Grateful Dead: “When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door.”

 
To quote our President from a recent article (Colvin, 2017):

 


  
“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized, it’s not so easy.”

So, there we have it. The first lesson in the education of a President.

 
 
 
 

 

Songs For The Day:

“Our Purpose Here,” by Ferron.


 

A couple of theme songs for President Trump:

A little Dharma “Karma Chameleon,” by Boy George and Culture Club (1983).


 

“Naïve Melody (This Must Be The Place),” this lovely version, performed by Shawn Colvin.


 

In honor of the upcoming March for Science April 22nd:

“Once In A Lifetime,” by the Talking Heads (“…under the rocks and stones, there is water underground…”) 


 

More Talking Heads, “Wild, Wild Life” (“…things fall apart, it’s scientific…”)


 

And, Jason Mraz again, with “93 Million Miles.”


 

 

 

Mark your calendars:

·         April 22 – March for Science, 2 to 4 PM, Boston Common. Better get started knitting your green and/or blue caps! I have to believe the March for the Arts can’t be far behind, right?



·         April 22 – Beantown plays the D.C. Furies and North Shore RFC in Amesbury, MA.

Check out www.BeantownRugby.com for more details. Go Forward, Support!

·         HUBweek 2017 in Boston, various locations, October 8 – 15, 2017 https://hubweek.org/

Propose an event now:


·         Walk For Education, United Negro College Fund(UNCF), October 14, 2017

 

 

Coming Next:

I don’t know, things continue to change so quickly. Maybe not politics for a change.

 

About WBCA-LP 102.9 FM Boston & Schmidt Happens:

WBCA is a community radio station sponsored by the Boston Neighborhood Network, and is on the air from 6 PM to 2 AM each night.

 

Radio Beantown is on the air! Jumana Hashim is a current member of Beantown Women’s Rugby Club, while Rosemary, aka Rosebud, Schmidt has been retired a few years.  

 

Beantown has games vs. the D.C. Furies and North Shore RFC April 22 in Amesbury, MA.

Check out www.BeantownRugby.com for more details.

Go Forward, Support!

 

 

References (newer ones in bold)

 

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Begley, Sharon. 2017. How Psychology Makes Sense of Trump’s Conspiracy Theories. Stat News. March 8, 2017.


 

Caldwell, Christopher. 2017. What Does Steve Bannon Want? The New York Times. February 25, 2017.


 

Colvin, Jill. 2017. Trump’s image undergoing a moderate makeover. The Boston Globe. April 14, 2017.


 

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Entous, Adam, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff, and Karen DeYoung. 2017. Blackwater founder held secret meetings to establish Trump-Putin back channel. The Washington Post. April 3, 2017.


 

Ewing, Philip. 2017. 4 Unanswered Questions About the FBI’s Russia Investigation. NPR. March 20, 2017.


 

Fehrnstrom, Eric. 2017. The Generals come to Trump’s rescue. The Boston Globe. April 13, 2017.


 

Frank, Jeffrey. 2017 Trump Can’t Stop Himself. The New Yorker. March 14, 2017. http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/trump-cant-stop-himself

 

Fuentes, Jake. 2017. The Immigration Ban is a Headfake, And We’re Falling For It. A Medium Corporation. 30 January 2017.


 

Fuentes, Jake. 2017. Ignoring the Drama and Getting Back to Work. A Medium Corporation. March 27, 2017.


 

Garrett, Major. 2017. Trump’s team showing signs of decay involving key players. CBS News. April 10, 2017.


 

Gillum, Jack, and Chad Day. 2017. Documents tie ex-Trump aide to Ukrainian payments. The Boston Globe. April 13, 2017.


 

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Naylor, Brian, and Dana Farrington. 2017. Six Unanswered Questions After Michael Flynn’s Resignation. National Public Radio. February 14, 2017.


 

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“If Trump were more rational and more competent, he might have a chance of destroying our democracy.”

 

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© 2017 Rosemary A. Schmidt

Rose Schmidt is the author of “Go Forward, Support! The Rugby of Life” (Gainline Press 2004). The views expressed herein are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the views of any other agency or organization. Use of individual quotes with proper citation and attribution, within the limits of fair use, is permitted. If you would like to request permission to use or reprint any of the content on the site, please contact me. Twitter: Rosebud@GainlineRS

 

Radio Broadcast © 2017 Jumana Hashim and Ellen Iorio and Rosemary Schmidt. For permission to re-print or re-broadcast the radio shows, please contact the radio hosts and/or WBCA-LP 102.9 FM Boston for permission. The views expressed in the radio broadcast are those of the hosts, and not any other agency, entity or organization. Every effort has been made to give proper credits and citations for material quoted/cited. Any errors or omissions are not intentional and every effort will be made to make corrections as soon as they are brought to our attention.

 

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