First on the White House agenda – the collapse of the global order. Next, war?

By 

guardian

Illustration by Robert G Fresson

This article was published in The Guardian, Saturday 4 February 2017

Donald Trump doesn’t read books. He leaves that to his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, the man rapidly emerging as the true power behind the gaudy Trump throne. Given Bannon’s influence – he is the innermost member of the president’s inner circle and will have a permanent seat on the National Security Council, a privilege Trump has denied the head of the US military – it’s worth taking a good look at the books on his bedside table.

Close to the top of the pile, according to this week’s Time magazine, is a book called The Fourth Turning, which argues that human history moves in 80- to 100-year cycles, each one climaxing in a violent cataclysm that destroys the old order and replaces it with something new. For the US, there have been three such upheavals: the founding revolutionary war that ended in 1783, the civil war of the 1860s and the second world war of the 1940s. According to the book, America is on the brink of another.

You’ll notice what all those previous transformations have in common: war on an epic scale. For Bannon, previously impresario of the far-right Breitbart website, that is not a prospect to fear but to relish. Time, which has Bannon on the cover, quotes him all but yearning for large-scale and bloody conflict. “We’re at war” is a favourite Bannon slogan, whether it’s the struggle against jihadism, which Bannon describes as “a global existential war” that may turn into “a major shooting war in the Middle East”, or the looming clash with China.