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Cancel your Steve Bannon victory dance

Steve Bannon is no longer Strategist in Chief to the President of the United States. Bannon himself told the Weekly Standard “the Trump Presidency that we fought for, and won, is over.” From which the Weekly Standard concludes “a new phase of the Trump presidency begins.” Maybe not so fast.

Bannon was symptom, not cause, of President Donald Trump’s disreputable behavior. Bannon may have had a hand in the president’s inaugural speech, but there’s no reason to believe it didn’t accurately represent Trump’s own views. To the contrary, he gives every evidence of believing that dark vision.

Bannon gave little indication of the ability to craft winning strategies for the President’s agenda, as evidenced by legislative failure of health care reform and awakening antibodies in American civic society to block the president’s policies. Even on executive orders, which ought to be White House fiat, those Bannon had a hand in have been substantially impeded: membership on the National Security Council and the immigration ban. In both cases craftsmanship as well as strategy were lacking. Someone with better understanding of how to connect means and ends could have much more effectively implemented the president’s views. John Kelly may be that someone.

But Bannon’s departure may not signal that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is successfully asserting the authority of his job. Kelly determines which staff get on the president’s calendar—including family members and chief strategists—and controls the White House switchboard, restricting official contact with the president. All of which sounds like the return of regular order to a White House badly in need of it.

Except that Kelly has emphasized that he controls the staffing process, not the president. He has said he has no intention of interfering in the president’s tweeting, and is his countenance at the president’s press availability on infrastructure is any indication, was not privy to the president’s statements before they were loosed on the country. Kelly may succeed in disciplining the White House, but he’s unlikely to discipline the president. As one White House advisor said, “Once he goes upstairs, there’s no managing him.”

Moreover, the president manifestly doesn’t want to be managed. His management style seems to be to create numerous centers of power, set them in conflict, alternatively select or degrade each to keep everyone off-balance and himself the sole repository of real power.

Afghanistan strategy may be a better indicator of this presidency’s functioning than White House processes. The president delegated authority for troop levels to the secretary of Defense, who is judiciously not making that determination in absence of a presidentially-approved strategy. The national security advisor has run a textbook process of interagency policy analysis and option development. The Cabinet reached consensus on a policy—in fact, the only policy that makes sense going forward, which is a regional strategy to stabilize Afghanistan until it is capable of managing the terrorist threats that gather in its poorly governed spaces. But the president doesn’t like it. It’s complicated, runs counter to the satisfyingly clear and simplistic narrative of his campaign. The president isn’t wrong to ask first order questions or reach outside the government for creative alternatives. He isn’t even wrong to stall making a decision these past several months: it’s a weighty decision, merits careful consideration. But President Trump gives indications he feels boxed in by Cabinet agreement on a policy he doesn’t like—and coming on the heels of being boxed in on Iran certification, he’s lashing out.

That suggests that President Trump is unlikely to remain subject to the regular order Kelly is establishing in the White House. John Kelly may well succeed at marginalizing advisors with vague portfolios, but he won’t succeed at taking the president’s cellphone or preventing him reenacting the Charlottesville disgrace across other issues. Donald’s gonna Donald.

Which means that Steve Bannon may actually have more influence on the president outside the administration than in. The president seems to get more of his information from television than his own administration, and as Bannon has made clear, he intends to keep pushing his agenda. So maybe we should hold off celebrating a Trump administration without Steve Bannon. As Lyndon Johnson said of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, “I’d rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.”

Letter: After conspiracy post, Idaho rep needs help

Charlottesville staged by Obama? Really? Are there little green men on the moon, too?

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, gross ignorance is best left concealed in your closet. When opening your mouth and proclaiming the "plausibility" of your Charlottesville/Obama conspiracy theory, you removed any doubt of your cerebral incompetence.

Please, in the future, keep your stupidity and bigotry to yourself. Idahoans don't need you to reinforce stereotypes of our white supremacist/Nazi history. Take yourself to the nearest psychiatrist. You urgently need help.

With complete disdain and disrespect,

Dr. Sarah Haynes


Colley: Barney's story

He was 19 when killed in action. It was more a diplomatic mission than combat. The crew was dropping leaflets over Papua New Guinea. The Fifth Air Force was bottled up in Australia and the Japanese controlled most of East Asia and the surrounding Pacific Ocean.

This week mark’s 74 years since the arrival of a telegram informing the family of Harold Kuhn he wouldn’t be coming home. I keep it in a special case along with a letter from Gen. H.H. “Hap” Arnold. There are other assorted personal mementos, a publication resembling a high school yearbook. It’s filled with politically incorrect cartoons about the enemy, portraits of men standing by their planes and many moments of leisure. A personal letter is folded inside the back cover of the book, signed by a dozen other young men who greatly missed their dead friend.

A yellowed photograph I also keep shows two men standing in uniform outside a modest home. On the back of the picture my grandmother wrote “Easter, 1943.” Two of her brothers were home one last time before shipping out.

Harold Kuhn, known to family as Barney, was my Grandmother Colley’s youngest sibling. He was much closer in age to Dad and Uncle Louie. Barney grew up more as a playmate and big brother. Great things were expected from him in life. It was cut short when the plane carrying his crew slammed into a mountain. I don’t know if it was a mechanical issue, pilot error or enemy fire. Years would pass before anyone reached the wreckage.

During some research two years ago I found an old newspaper clipping. After the war a priest and an island guide located the remains. The priest wrote a letter to my family in belief it would bring some closure. The military collected what it could recover and sent everything to Hawaii.

In 1965 the remnants of proud young Americans were laid to rest at a national cemetery in St. Louis. This confused me as a boy. Why Missouri?

Two weeks ago an aunt reached out and explained Barney was coming home. Burial is scheduled for Sept. 23 and my name is on the list of family the Army will fly in for the ceremony. This is happening in 2017 because of science. An older aunt submitted a DNA sample in 2008 for Army review. Then silence for almost a decade was broken in late July by news of positive results.

Even the most hard-boiled personalities can understand the bittersweet reaction. My Aunt Ruth is the last person remaining alive with any memories of Harold “Barney” Kuhn. He twirled her over a table before he left for war. She was just 6 years old when they said farewell. He was 19 when his life ended. My birth came 19 years later. My sadness is for all the members of the family who died without an answer.

And yet here is a message stretching across three-quarters of a century. A message of hope. His last full measure of devotion reminds us there was a time when Americans were overwhelmingly unified. I grew up in a house where he was a constant presence. He dwelled on a living room wall, a portrait of a handsome young man in uniform and frame. In the very same room there was always a large television console where we would watch the news of the day. Cities burning, terrorist attacks and arguments over distant wars. Throughout the years there was one steady impression. The optimistic teenager looking out from the wall never changed.

There are few general agreements in life today. Among the few we’ve got is a belief the last real unity in this country ended with the Japanese surrender. I’ll make the judgement of the amateur historian. In the 241 years since the Declaration of Independence, the country may well have only been near total unity over a four year period battling the Axis Powers.

The New England states talked secession in the early days of the Republic. The South went beyond the talk. Was there ever serious agreement about wars with Mexico and against the indigenous tribes? In school I received the survey course and never doubted the public was overwhelmingly on board. More serious reading brings me to opposite conclusions. Ethnic tension has always been a part of the national story. Regional and religious differences remain. Warring political camps seethe with resentment.

Then what united Barney Kuhn and his generation? The mainland was never seriously threatened, but we come to that conclusion because we’ve got decades of history as evidence. Two massive oceans didn’t look so large to the people of 1941 when enemies were developing modern warfare of industrial proportions. And when you send millions of men and some women to other continents, they do discover they share a heritage of language, culture and common ideals. The Kuhn’s arrived on American shores in 1841 from a part of what later became modern Germany. They owed no allegiance to any other state because it hadn’t been created when they left.

They also wanted to be here. Life was difficult but offered promise. Today I meet people from all backgrounds who believe the promise is either expired or broken. We’re spoiled. The greatest generation suffered the Great Depression and still found the will to believe in a better future. Last week I asked if we could learn any lessons. It’s my wish Barney’s story be remembered, forever.