Opinion The right-wing grift machine blows up in Steve Bannon’s face

cigaretteman

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May 29, 2001
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By Greg Sargent
Columnist |
September 7, 2022 at 1:15 p.m. EDT


Political commentators often ask whether the ideology of Trumpism will outlast Donald Trump. We don’t yet know the answer to that, but we already can say this: If there’s one legacy of Trumpism that will endure long after Trump himself, it’s Trumpist grift.
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This is brought to mind by the news that onetime Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon will surrender to New York authorities in the face of an expected indictment. While details are unclear, The Post reports that the state charges are likely related to federal charges in 2020 that Bannon allegedly defrauded contributors by pocketing funds ostensibly raised to build Trump’s border wall.
You might recall that Trump pardoned Bannon for the federal charges. But presidential pardons don’t apply to state prosecutions, and the Manhattan district attorney has been evaluating whether to prosecute Bannon since last year.
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Which is a reminder of the role that sheer, unabashed, unadulterated grift continues to play in the Trumpist political project. In numerous ways, Trump’s allies have shamelessly milked the Trumpist cash cow for all it’s worth, something that has continued during his post-presidency.



The outsize role of grift in American conservatism is a story that goes back at least a half century. But Trump glommed on to those tendencies while also exacerbating them in his own ugly ways, and the Bannon saga is a particularly grotesque example of that.
Bannon and a group of associates allegedly raised $25 million from hundreds of thousands of donors for something called “We Build the Wall.” In 2020, federal prosecutors charged that Bannon had lied when he said he wouldn’t take any compensation, instead raking in $1 million for himself and a co-conspirator through a nonprofit group.
Bannon pleaded not guilty, but Trump’s pardon is what enabled him to escape prosecution. And Trump’s pardon left three others involved in the scheme out on a limb facing prosecution. Two of them pleaded guilty, with one admitting to conspiring to scam donors.
What makes all this so heinous is that this grift was built atop a foundation of still more Trumpist grift. The fundraising scheme appears to have preyed on donors who were “frustrated” with the failure to complete Trump’s core campaign promise of a wall on the southern border.
The promise of the wall was itself largely grift. The role of a wall in keeping out migrants is negligible: Many migrants that Trump targeted had the legal right to apply for asylum and get a hearing in the United States, which wouldn’t be undone by any wall. Trump slashed migrant flows by restricting that legal right, even as his wall mostly wasn’t built. That latter failure was largely irrelevant.
Yet Bannon’s scheme sold the unbuilt wall as some sort of major and unforgivable betrayal of Trumpism. Millions who had been seduced into believing our civilizational fate turned on the building of this wall were invited to open their wallets to remedy this historical injustice.
Indeed, Trump himself slammed Bannon’s project after his initial arrest, calling it “showboating.” That’s the perfect illustration of the “no honor among thieves” principle, but it also shows that the supreme grifter himself knew a con job when he saw one (not to mention one that wasn’t giving him a cut).
The bigger story here is that Trumpism itself presents numerous ripe opportunities for grifting. The Trumpist grift is outlasting the Trump presidency: The Jan. 6 House select committee has shown that Trump and his allies used the lie of a stolen election to raise as much as $250 million from right-leaning voters.
Much of that money, the committee showed, went to Trump’s “Save America PAC” and not to “election related litigation.” The committee probe also demonstrated that millions were funneled back to organizations run by top Trump allies.
Meanwhile, candidates running for secretary of state on the idea that President Biden’s victory was illegitimate have raised millions of dollars this cycle, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. It’s the grift that will keep on giving, probably for years to come.
Historian Rick Perlstein has documented how such grifting has long been a feature of right-wing politics, back through the direct mail chicanery of the 1970s.
“What Bannon is doing here is very much of a piece with 50 years of grifting,” Perlstein told me. “The pattern has always been corralling fleeceable marks and separating them from their cash.”
Perlstein noted that these schemes are built atop a bedrock layer of grift. Underlying promises such as the vow to reverse the “stolen” election, or to finish the unbuilt wall, tap into people’s anger and disappointment by telling them they’ve been deprived of something they should have justly received (a Trump election victory, a border wall).
As Perlstein put it, the key is to “manufacture this feeling of helplessness, so you can ride to the rescue.” In other words, it’s grift all the way down.
Bannon, who is denouncing the expected charges against him as “phony,” will have his day in court, and perhaps he will be found innocent. Still, even if the scheme is not found to be illegal, it was plainly in line with right-wing grift going back decades.
But now the grift machine appears to be blowing up in Bannon’s face.

 

mnole03

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Mar 20, 2005
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Their text chain came out in Timothy Shea’s trial. They called donors crazy and then made jokes about going to jail after saying ‘no one could prove where the money went.’

What’s sad is that a lone juror prevented conviction in an open and shut case because he loves Trump and claimed the rest of the jury were liberals.
 
Feb 9, 2013
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Their text chain came out in Timothy Shea’s trial. They called donors crazy and then made jokes about going to jail after saying ‘no one could prove where the money went.’

What’s sad is that a lone juror prevented conviction in an open and shut case because he loves Trump and claimed the rest of the jury were liberals.
Which is why I am comfortable predicting Trump will never be convicted of anything. (Unfortunately)
 
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CarolinaHawkeye

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Feb 5, 2003
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Iowa
Their text chain came out in Timothy Shea’s trial. They called donors crazy and then made jokes about going to jail after saying ‘no one could prove where the money went.’

What’s sad is that a lone juror prevented conviction in an open and shut case because he loves Trump and claimed the rest of the jury were liberals.
When you become a trump loyalist, you throw any kind of decency away.
 

torbee

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Gold Member
Did they kill off all the CHUDS in the sequel? Or did Daniel Stern get them all in the first one.
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