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Recent headlines from the White House feature Donald Trump putting some distance between himself and his controversial Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon. Trump even declared that he is his own chief strategist. Policy pronouncements have sounded more like mainstream Republicans than the populist insurgent that Trump earlier projected.

Bannon Kushner Conflict

While environmental policy continues to be driven by Scott Pruitt’s climate change denial, in the economic sphere Trump has been sounding more moderate. He thinks he might keep Janet Yellen as head of the Federal Reserve. He hasn’t trashed NAFTA yet. He backed Paul Ryan’s bill to replace Obamacare, even though it accepted the principle that health care is a right, and that the federal government is obliged to provide for it (a position that is anathema to the GOP hard right).

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about Trump, though, in this first three months, it is that he doesn’t steer a straight course. It may or may not be true that he has goals in mind, but if so, he doesn’t seem to move toward them in any systematic way. Rather, he seems to reflect the most recent confidant who has whispered in his ear. So mainstream Republicans shouldn’t get too comfortable.

He seems to have two competing power centers around him. The first centers on Steve Bannon, reflecting the aggressive alt-right white nationalism that got Trump elected. Bannon was named Chief Strategist because his was the strategy that put Trump in the Oval Office. Bannon and his allies are committed to go as far as possible in destroying the federal government as we know it, and replacing it with a leaner, more aggressive, more authoritarian government on behalf of “true” (i.e., white) Americans. Not only do they have contempt for minorities and uppity women, they also deeply mistrust big business, as alleged partners of the government that they seek to destroy. They propose, in short, to take a wrecking ball to the despised Establishment. Trump’s all-too-frequent inflammatory rhetoric reflects this influence.

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If there is one thing that is transparent about the Trump White House, it is that the Trump family are doing kleptocracy bigly.

But Trump also brought with him his own family and close business collaborators, most notably his daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner. There have been recent reports of conflict between Kushner and Bannon, with Kushner pushing a much more orthodox economic policy line. When Trump sounds moderate, he’s reflecting Ivanka and Kushner.

But this is not just old-fashioned pro-business Republicanism. Trump himself is no longer managing his companies on a daily basis: he’s delegated that to his sons. But he’s still the owner and certainly knows how to take advantage of his position to benefit his enterprises. Ivanka has her own company, which she continues actively to manage even as she occupies an unpaid but official White House job. Her brands of clothing have become hot items as a direct result of her political power and prominence. The Trump family obviously understands that their private interests will best be served by a stable national and global economy, and certainly not by the alt-right’s wrecking ball.

Kleptocracy is a regime where those who hold public office use their positions for private advantage. Many politicians do this, but on a smaller scale and with more subtlety. If there is one thing that is transparent about the Trump White House, it is that the Trump family are doing kleptocracy bigly. And that goes right up to the President.

When we think of it this way, it makes sense that Trump’s appointments allow him to keep throwing red meat to his militant supporters on issues like climate change, or health care, while he has put economic policy firmly in the hands of Wall Street. Steve Bannon may hang on in the White House, but only if he doesn’t challenge Jared Kushner and that Wall Street hegemony. His job is to keep throwing out the red meat to distract the Trump supporters who are getting shafted.

john peeler

And the rest of us? We can either bend over, or stand up.

John Peeler