It would be nice to think the departure of Steve Bannon, chief strategist in a strategy-free White House, signals that President Trump is oh-so-gradually closing the door on white nationalist sentiments. But that would require forgetting that Mr. Trump fostered birther lies and racist memes long before he worked with Mr. Bannon, who saw in him a vessel for a more developed nativist agenda.
Mr. Bannon’s exit is, of course, a relief. As the well-financed Pied Piper of the alt-right Breitbart crowd, Mr. Bannon at the pinnacle of White House policy making was a nightmare come to life.
But Mr. Bannon, who promptly returned to Breitbart as its executive chairman on Friday, still poses a danger for our broader politics. Outside the White House, he is freer to rally his forces against anyone who doesn’t toe his nationalist-protectionist line. A Bannon-led right-wing backlash against Mr. Trump, who unleashed the worst impulses of nationalists in service to himself, would be a fitting comeuppance.
No matter what, Mr. Bannon’s exit marks a new level of chaos in an administration that’s been defined by chaos.
Mr. Bannon is the architect of some of Mr. Trump’s most noxious isolationist and anti-immigrant policies. But he was also a voice against some of Mr. Trump’s worst excesses, like his firing of James Comey, the F.B.I. director; his abusive campaign against Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; and his appointment of Anthony Scaramucci, an inexperienced Wall Street loyalist, as communications director. Mr. Bannon supported the appointment of John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff, whose desire to impose some semblance of order in the White House played a role in Mr. Bannon’s departure. He disparaged the ideas of using force against North Korea and of expanding military involvement in Afghanistan.
Mr. Bannon is commonly known as the Pepe the Frog reptilian brain of the Trump presidency, the bomb-thrower of the far-right fringe whose rage and intolerance were egged on by Mr. Trump. But Mr. Bannon was more wily and complicated than his now-former boss.