By any conventional measure, the Trump White House has been a train wreck from the moment it left the station. It's already put more than half the country, and world, on a war footing.
There was the dark and vituperative inaugural address that sounded as if it was inspired by Nostradamus. There were the puerile attacks on media estimates of crowd sizes, the unfounded charges of massive voter fraud and the press secretary's declaration of war on anyone who would put the lie to the alternative facts the new administration sought to propagate.
Those who had given Team Trump the benefit of the doubt, predicting a discipline of power would necessarily take hold in the West Wing, were quickly chastened. The messy rollout of the President's refugee and immigration ban showed that, when the administration faced a choice between stoking ethno-nationalist populism and acting responsibly, populism would always win.
What looks like a disaster from the outside, however, is seen by the architect of the chaos as a promising start to the disruption he seeks to unleash over the next four years. If there was any question about who in the West Wing held the most sway over Donald Trump, the early days of his presidency confirmed that the real power lay with his bilious chief strategist.
How Steve Bannon managed to become Mr. Trump's most influential adviser, to the point of snagging a seat on the National Security Council's principals committee, says a lot about both men. (On April 5, it was announced that Bannon had been removed from the National Security Council.)
This is not a trusted partnership based on a decades-old friendship, as was the case with Barack Obama and Valerie Jarrett. Nor is it based on a long track record of winning campaigns, as it was with George W. Bush and Karl Rove. Rather, Mr. Bannon a few years ago identified Mr. Trump as his Manchurian Candidate and ingratiated himself to him by stroking his ego.
The two men do share a similar world view. But while Mr. Trump's is inchoate and half-formed, based on his gut rather than any coherent paradigm, Mr. Bannon is a fervent student of history and believes the United States only ceased to be great by sublimating its Judeo-Christian traditions in the face of Western moral relativism, pluralism and globalization. He holds a dark view of human nature and admits to admiring Dick Cheney, Darth Vader and Satan.
He spread his gospel of the Apocalypse while running Breitbart News and providing obsequious coverage of Mr. Trump, who naturally became the vessel for his views. He loves that the elites hate him. But they can't hate him more than he hates them. The self-involved globalists are the reason white working-class Americans lost their livelihoods and moral bearings in the first place. These "forgotten people" are the intended audience for every disruption he orders up.
"I'm not a white nationalist, I'm a nationalist. I'm an economic nationalist," Mr. Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter in November. "The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get fucked over."
When a New York Times news headline accuses Mr. Trump of repeating a "lie" or thousands of protesters descend on the country's airports to denounce the new President's immigration ban, Mr. Bannon knows he's done his job. You need only watch how such incidents play out in the vast echo chambers of Trump Nation to appreciate the sense of empowerment its members finally feel.
Mr. Bannon refers to himself as "Honey Badger" and apparently adopted the moniker after discovering the thick-skinned creature is impervious to anything that tries to attack it. Hence his motto: "Honey Badger don't give a shit." Like his totem, Mr. Bannon is oblivious to his attackers.
How long can Mr. Bannon exercise his Rasputin-like influence on his boss without an intervention? The Trump administration's official criticism last week of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Russia's annexation of Crimea suggested that there are limits to Mr. Bannon's disruption. But only time will tell if it means steadier hands have taken over in the West Wing.
More likely it's the manifestation of a continuing struggle between the insurgents led by Mr. Bannon and the more experienced hands in the Trump cabinet. Who's up or down on any given day may depend on what side of the bed Mr. Trump gets up on, whether he's piqued by a headline in the Times or flattered by Mr. Bannon's manipulative sweet nothings. It kind of makes you miss Karl Rove.