In his latest op-ed, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan explores the similarities between President Trump’s chief strategist Steve Bannon and King Henry VIII’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell, whom Bannon jokingly compared himself to when he told an interviewer last year, “I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors.”
Egan writes that Bannon, like Cromwell, is a “brilliant and cunning” strategist who is “busy trying to destroy the existing order.” But Egan ominously warns Bannon to remember the fate of his “historical doppelgänger.” Cromwell was eventually executed for treason by the mercurial king he served.
Bannon is a voracious reader — of philosophy, theory and the hinge moments in history. Cromwell, who altered the course of the Western world in ways still being felt today, was Steve Bannon in feathered Tudor finery.
Readers of Hilary Mantel’s revisionist novels, and viewers of the BBC series based on her work, know Thomas Cromwell as a brooding, brilliant master of the court of King Henry VIII, from 1532 to 1540. The real Cromwell was a cunning conspirator who tore up the old order in service of a self-indulgent, wife-killing king who forced a breakaway religion on his subjects.
Or was he serving his own needs, an overarching plan? That’s the question we should ask about Bannon. Like Cromwell, the Trump-whisperer in the West Wing is brilliant and cunning, and full of contradictions. He appears to be a self-hating baby boomer, a self-hating member of the Harvard Business School/Goldman Sachs elite, a self-hating Hollywood director and a self-hating journalist. From his films on Sarah Palin to his time running Breitbart, he learned how to be a very good propagandist. It’s a role that has served him well in the White House.
As chief strategist, he recently vowed a daily fight for “deconstruction of the administrative state.” This is a Cromwellian task aimed at overturning not just the traditional work of the federal government, but also the existing international order of treaties, trade pacts and alliances that has kept the world relatively safe since World War II. Trump’s cabinet is stocked with people whose goal is to neuter the agencies they head.
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