Steve, don't go

As I write this, after the White House experienced a newsy day, some observers in Washington appear to regard Steve Bannon as vulnerable in his position as a senior adviser to President Trump.  At the risk of being quickly proven wrong by future events, I say, "Not so fast."

Given the diplomatic outreach conducted today by Anthony Scaramucci (including fulsome praise of Reince Priebus and a description of him as a "brother"), there is good reason to believe that neither Priebus's nor Bannon's fate is sealed.  Likely, a Bannon departure at this stage would be Bannon's own doing.  He should stay and compete.

Bannon's value to Trump, and to the people, lies in the ideas he chooses to promote, even when not put into action.  Robust governing policy results from the clash of ideas.  One or another view may prevail, or some synthesis of ideas may gain favor.  By being advanced and defended, "losing" ideas can be improved – there is much to be learned in failure.

Debate of that sort, when performed by people who share common ideals and purposes, can produce clarity of thinking, mutual agreement, commitment to action, and successful governing policies.

Scaramucci appears to be a man of action, as Trump sees himself, but he is not known as a man of ideas.  He seems to be from the school of "Put me in charge, and I'll get it done."

Bannon is smart, imaginative, and tough-minded, but he hasn't prospered in the White House and remains unable to convert many of his ideas into action.  Perhaps he and Scaramucci will complement each other.

Trump has set up a White House staff with competing factions vying for influence.  Some believe he has consciously set out to create "a team of rivals."  Abraham Lincoln included prominent rivals in his government to co-opt them, keeping his enemies close.  Trump may know he needs a vigorous policy contest because in many cases he has no coherent policy predisposition – he is less likely to fall back on principle, more likely to assess what might work.  What better way to work his way toward important choices than by absorbing the result of a clash of ideas to which he has the ringside seat?

Let's hope Bannon appreciates that he and his ideas must compete to be accepted as wise.  His failure to dominate at the White House is not decisive – it is just the way it must be.  Realistically, the best one can expect in such circumstances is to win some, lose some.

Bannon sees and has no illusions about the abundant dysfunction in America and in the world.  He seems also to grasp the fundamental nature of things and see what must be done to reorder incentives and change the direction of events.  He needs to stay on, express his vision well, and gain allies. 

If Steve Bannon has faith in his own judgment, he should embrace the duty to compete, organize, persuade, and execute, especially in the face of opposition.  He should play his part in the Trump White House dialectic.