Bannon-Frum Debate Recap, Nov. 2018

Updated: Dec 27, 2020

By: Joseph MacKinnon

Outside Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto police kept the anti-Bannon protesters at bay. Its constituents were a hodgepodge of self-declared commies and other Toronto Star -incensed NDP riffraff waving hammer-and-sickle flags. Besides chanting "shame" at ticket holders as if there's none in wasting one's Friday night doing so, the primary chant went along the lines of: "No nation! No Wall! We welcome one and all!" Nary a Canadian flag nor a poppy symbolizing the welcoming country or its requisite sacrifice could be found among the censorial mob. Against a backdrop of Stalinist red, every other nation's flag seemed represented, at odds with their wavers' open ridicule for nationalism. 

The CBC, which this past week helped stoke the leftists' unfounded fear and apoplexy, was there to reap the benefit of its criminal incitement. Over 11 protesters were arrested. 

A young woman and her father were immediately ahead of us in line right about where the barricades ended. Protesters were hassling some others around us, attempting to intimidate kids (they screamed "UCC" at virtually every ticket holder under 20) and older women. Eventually some Antifa clones made their way over to the father and daughter. One particular Ryerson regular masked and dressed up like the unabomber threatened old John, but then got a solid guarantee from the next person in line and took off. John's daughter thanked the guarantor--mainly because John, the 65-year-old dentist from North York, was set on doing a roadside surgery and that "wouldn't be right". Along with John and behind a parade of geriatrics, we were lectured by commies about Nazism until security-checked, and then sent in. 

You saw the debate, so there's little to add. Frum was affable and spoke well, but his speeches were platitudinous. Wouldn't be surprised if Gerald Butts wrote his closing statements.

Bannon, conversely, opened and closed on-topic, remained calm throughout, and manufactured levity by charming all those ruffled feathers in the wings. He intentionally let the conversation divulge into a commercial for Trump, where he laid down a barrage on the establishment GOP. 

Frum's outright attack on political futurism revealed his reluctance to accept reality; strange, first, because liberalism is itself utopian, but also because populism is here on the right and the left (Trump / Sanders; Brazil; Hungary; Italy; France; etc.). And, assuming it survives the duration of the majority governments its facilitated into power, it's here for the foreseeable future.

While Kristallnacht was invoked, there was decidedly no mention of the guillotine or the Bastille; no mention of tea brewing in the Boston Harbor. Populism, a thin theory that is necessarily paired to some hefty ideology, frames a political battlefield as elite versus common; the establishment versus the people. It has made an appearance numerous times  across the globe, even in recent history. The protesters outside fear iterations of populism that scapegoat elites along racial lines. That concern is wrongly allocated in the case of Bannon's populism and of the variety that blossomed in 2016, which instead depends upon class distinctions. (The Occupy Movement and the Tea Party phenomenon could be said to have been two of the contributing buds.) 

The question at hand in this debate was not whether populism is morally good or bad, but whether it is here to stay. 

The vast majority of print publications endorsed establishment-Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2015/16. The preponderance of mainstream news broadcast coverage was vitriolic when it came to coverage of the apparent People's man and many talking heads Pezzed funds to his opposition's campaign. Wall Street wanted Clinton. Big business wanted Clinton. Hollywood wanted Clinton. Silicon Valley wanted Clinton. Never mind the Left -- the Bushes and Romney's RINOs ended up wanting Clinton. Both parties allied to fight Trump's candidacy, his presidency, and his mandate. Both parties and all of Washington's swamp things have failed, at least so far. Their greatest failure, however, is not that they didn't silence the vox populi before it mouthpiece was confirmed as President, but that they played right into the populists' framing. They are the living caricatures that populist fantasies usually have to invent.

Tonight, Frum set Bannon up for a win. He was the establishment's representative in the debate and his primary job was to offer the masses an alternative to revolution. Bannon offered hope. Frum could only offer fear disguised as compassion.

Kuehnelt-Leddihn's readership could have offered a helping hand, if not with a solution, then with a proper scare. Left and right wing populism can accomplish both social and economic good, as demonstrated over the past two years (Brazil is a wildcard). It can also be disastrous. After all, who replaces the establishment and how? Who replaced the Czar? What was the human cost, in tens of millions? When the common man has eliminated the hierarchy, Frum might have asked: "Who controls the mob?" If we take the central debating term, "liberal", in a Leddihnian sense, we are speaking of the attempt at a balance between liberty and order; a system of checks and balances, and limits on the mob. The electoral college, speaking of checks and balances, is a liberal design--giving rural areas and resource-remote states an aggrandized say to compete with the heavily-populated coastal hives: a check on direct-democracy to avoid the tyranny of the majority. Frum could have imagined what a radically-left populist movement might look like--to deter complicity and to inspire fears about what collectivization by force might look like south of Dixie. Instead, he sought to sweep waves back into the ocean.

It's too bad, in a way, that we didn't get to hear about solutions to the populist crisis. A Luddite revolt? Totalitarianism? 

I guess we'll just have to hone in on the signal and ignore the noise.