New Orleans Steve Bannon is having a rough couple of days. My advice to him would have been, “what goes around comes around,” but a reporter slipped in an editorial observation in a New York Times story reporting on Bannon’s tenuous hold on his position and platform at Breitbart.com where he recently returned as chairman after being cashiered from the White House. He noted that, “Media figures more famous than Mr. Bannon have learned the hard way that audiences tend to remain loyal to institutions, rather than individuals.”
This very obvious, plain-as-day observation has renewed currency in the media, even including newspapers, who make a lot of their bread-and-butter by personalizing the news and insisting that the “first draft of history” is always centered around some personality or another. Returning to this hard won truth was inevitable when story after story about what dire things would happen to this show or that news program in the #MeToo moment were upended by the public essentially yawning and following their noses on their own trails. Take the Today show and the gazillions being paid to Matt Lauer to be the rock on which that network made millions as one example. He left and the ratings didn’t go down, but instead when up. Location, location, location and habit, habit, habit combined into big whoops come and go, but we do what we want, when we want, the way we want.
But, I get it. Institutions are what institutions are. They are stolid, boring, and gray. They don’t crack jokes or speak directly. Their pictures tend to look like machines or buildings or symbols. In fact, Bannon seems to have forgotten in the moment, as many others have, that institutions are what we try to build, and what we try to change, because they are in fact bigger than any of us.
While getting the big head, Bannon and his former boss and buddy, Donald Trump, are both forgetting this simple truth that is one of the few security blankets most of America is still holding tight. All of these rightwing revolutionaries will storm the barricades, as we have done for decades, but they will still find that no matter how many battles won, the war is forever. We’ll live through Trump, but if we also get confused that he is the real issue or that Bannon was, we’ll make the same mistake. Someone who seems more comfortable working in the institution and pulling its levers would be much more dangerous, just as Trump’s enablers and defenders are now.
These institutions need change, but it won’t be done by individuals. There are no saviors or knights in shining armor. It’s going to take all of us. If we learn that finally, we have edge.