The Yellowstone caldera has a lot of people on edge this week, apparently for good reason. For those not in the know, a caldera is the depression left in the ground after a supervolcano erupts. Yellowstone did so about 630,000 years ago, and the violence of that mighty explosion — the likes of which have never been seen by human eyes — made that gorgeous national park what it is today.
If Yellowstone decides to erupt, well, buy canned goods. An eruption won’t be the continent-obliterating event depicted in the disaster flick 2012 (I’m sure Woody Harrelson will be fine), but it would be quite completely bad. Every crop within 500 miles in all directions at least will be buried in ash, and the sky will be last-book-in-the-Bible black until a good, stiff breeze picks up the ejecta cloud and drags it out over the Atlantic.
The good folks at the United States Geological Survey tell us not to worry, but people are worried anyway. An eruption at the Yellowstone caldera would be preceded by one if not several earthquakes, and there have been something like 800 earthquakes around the caldera in the last couple of weeks. Lots of smart people are saying no big deal, but if you hear a loud thud from the upper left corner of Wyoming, don’t say you weren’t warned.
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Lately, when I think of Yellowstone exploding, I think of former White House adviser Steve Bannon’s nascent “revolution.” Like the caldera, it’ll be something else indeed. If he fails, he could unleash chaos. If he succeeds, the very survival of the nation could be cast into doubt.
Steve Bannon’s curiously corkscrewed path through this life has been well-documented. His husbanding of the far-right racist, misogynist, Islamophobic “news” site Breitbart landed him on the Trump presidential campaign and put him in the White House as chief strategist for a small slice of time, but it is his gleeful wrecking ball enthusiasm that has him in the news lately.
“I want to bring everything crashing down,” he told Ronald Radosh of The Daily Beast in August of last year, “and destroy all of today’s establishment.” The establishment he has his eyes set on today belongs, as it happens, to the Republican Party. At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, he whipped the crowd into a delirious froth at the prospect of running primary challenges at any GOP officeholder who draws his ire by not living up to his white supremacist standards. “This is not my war, this is our war,” he declared. “And you all didn’t start it, the establishment started it. I will tell you one thing — you all are gonna finish it.”
Republican Senators Mitch McConnell, Orrin Hatch, Bob Corker, John Barasso, Dean Heller and Deb Fischer all were splashed with Bannon’s mark of Cain, worthy of being overthrown and tossed aside because, in some form or fashion, they displeased or defied the president. Few will shed tears if these loathsome establishment Republicans lose their seats; they have harmed the country beyond measure. Yet if Bannon gets his way, it’s possible they will be replaced with Roy Moore clones seeking to unmake the country even as they pledge their loyalty to Trump. Either way, there’s no cause for celebration in sight.
The details behind the infrastructure of this insurgency remain murky, but here’s the grim part: Bannon has the perfect partner in Donald J. Trump, whether or not the two are seen actually working together. The president has been a demonstrable catastrophe in office, but don’t tell him that. “I’m not going to blame myself,” said Trump before a meeting with McConnell this week. “I’ll be honest; they are not getting the job done.”
Trump blames Congress. Bannon blames Congress. Congress is Republican to all intents and purposes, so it’s war on the Republicans on two fronts, and hats over the windmill.
The reality of this is ruthless in its irony. This whole bent, benighted situation has come to a boil exactly and precisely because the Republican Party set it up to be this way over the long course of many deliberate years. They created this scenario, and then totally lost control of it.
Take a large voting block and steal from them reason, science and expertise in the name of nonsense economic theories and a narrow-minded Jesus who offers absolution for irresponsible hate. Inculcate them with abhorrence for immigrants and Black and Brown people after you send their jobs overseas for your profit, because they’ll need someone to blame when the factories close down. Make facts frightening, a cozen meant to steal from them what little they have even as the voracious ocean laps at their shoeless toes. Offer them enemies. Turn them loose.
That is the story of the Republican Party as brought to you by John Birch, first voiced in clarion call by Barry Goldwater in 1964, massaged into landslide victory by Nixon’s brazenly racist “Southern Strategy” before being embraced and successfully marketed by Ronald Reagan. The rest is aftermath compounded by aftermath, resulting in a muscular voting bloc numbering in the millions which has gone from being “values voters” to Trump loyalists.
Steve Bannon and Donald Trump are opportunistic peas in a pod, the perfect symbiotic relationship. They are not publicly working together, but Bannon is firing up the only people Trump has left. They’re both attacking the GOP leadership in Congress. They’re both stoking the base for their own purposes. Bannon is using Trump, and Trump is all too happy to be used if it gets him in front of those cheering crowds. The two men seek approval from the exact same people. It isn’t a spoken alliance, but there has been no public break between the two. Bannon is a Trump guy, using Trump for Bannon’s sake.
Bannon is also a wrecker of the purest stripe, a white supremacist, an Islamophobic xenophobe, an anti-Semite, a racist and a misogynist pretending to be a cultural revolutionary. Trump, who shares many of these characteristics, mainly seeks cheering crowds. A rudderless GOP base makes for a perfect audience, and a better army. Bannon sets them up, Trump knocks them down, and the GOP establishment cowers in a corner dumbfounded at what they have wrought while still pining away for that billion-dollar tax cut their paymasters so desperately desire. It is the perfect storm.
This “revolution,” like Trump’s whole administration to date, is a scrambled and incoherent thing. Let that caldera crack, however, and we will be presented with a scenario unprecedented in modern US politics. The best-case outcome — Bannon and Trump cause the complete collapse of the GOP — would still be extremely dangerous and deeply destabilizing. The two (and those who think like them) might well retain control over a segment of the populace capable of wreaking terrible havoc both in and out of politics.
Or they could win, and find themselves in control of a dreadnought party set to make total war on everyone who is not white hetero Christian, anyone who ever crossed them, anyone and everyone simply because they can. That party in charge of all three branches of government, with the looming ability to nominate several Supreme Court justices, would signal the end of the country once and for all.
“I want to bring everything crashing down,” Bannon said. He is going to try, he is in the process of trying, and one way or another, you’ll be able to see the smoke for miles around.