Every organization needs creatives. Even a company that does nothing but sell products designed and manufactured by others needs someone to originate its policies. However, if you’ve read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, you might remember World Controller Mustapha Mond’s discourse about why a society of “all Alpha Pluses” is inherently unstable and unworkable. What Huxley aimed at the idea of a world populated solely by persons of genius-level intellect is even more lethal to the idea of an organization in which everyone is creatively gifted. Even an organization that sells original artwork needs some folks who don’t wield a brush.
Any large organization will require a substantial percentage of persons whose principal talent is following orders. These folks don’t have to be original thinkers. They do need the ability to comprehend clearly stated policies, to deduce and act on their immediate implications, and to carry out specific instructions. Their diligence in executing the organization’s processes and procedures is an under-appreciated asset.
But to follow orders, one must have orders to follow. That’s the realm of the idea man, the “policy wonk.” He might be an original thinker, or he might merely be skilled at discerning the necessities around him. In either case, he and his fellows concoct the policy directions the “organization men” will follow.
Whereupon we come to Donald Trump’s choices of Reince Priebus for his chief of staff, and Steve Bannon for his consigliere, and why the Left is apparently exercised about the latter but not the former.
Priebus is a classic “gray flannel suit” organization man. You wouldn’t expect him to run for president, Congress, or any similar position. He’s a gifted organizer who knows how to “work the machine” to get it functioning in the direction prescribed from above him. President-elect Trump is confident that Priebus will direct the White House staff smoothly and effectively.
Bannon is an idea man, if not a classical “policy wonk.” Once Trump has specified the priorities, he will be one of the “inner circle” members entrusted with formulating policies appropriate to them. Cabinet secretaries will have some input to this, of course; oftentimes they’ll know what’s been tried by previous administrations and how well it worked (or didn’t). However, a Cabinet secretary is not mainly a policy maker but a manager. Their function, despite the prominence of their positions, is to take clearly stated policies and break them down into smaller bits that their subordinates can effectuate.
That’s why the vitriol from the Left has focused on Bannon rather than Priebus. Bannon, the prominent conservative who’s helped to make Breitbart.com a smashing success, is the figure more likely to evolve administration policies from Trump’s statements about priorities. If the Left can somehow intimidate him, it will have blunted one of Trump’s major weapons.
Process and management, of course, are not automatic. More is required than just “turning the crank.” But a process man is far more difficult to attack than a policy originator. There’s also less gain to be had from it. So Bannon will get the greatest share of the Left’s venom, at least until Trump announces his Cabinet nominations.
The attacks on Bannon are classical Alinskyite thrusts: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, polarize it.” The Left has made Bannon the personal representative for conservative policy thinking. It doesn’t matter that there are many other, equally prominent conservatives who agree with him; he’s inside the emerging administration and they’re not. So it will be his profile on the Left’s dart boards for some time to come. Any administration initiative the Left decides to target will be attributed to him.
Note in this connection that the Left, despite its detestation of Trump himself, will prefer to attack Bannon. The president-elect’s victory at the polls has proved his popularity. The wise tactician looks for a softer spot in the enemy’s line. Trump must say or do something egregious before it becomes profitable to assail him directly.
Therefore, for the present we should expect Bannon to take most of the Left’s flak, while it leaves Priebus unmolested. Moreover, should Bannon leave the administration, the Left’s odium will fall on whoever replaces him, regardless of that person’s identity and background. If there’s any sniping aimed at Priebus, it will come from within the Republican Party, which he served well and whose major figures are no doubt unhappy at losing his services to a figure they regard as “not one of us.”
It will be an interesting show to watch, at least for the first few episodes.