Politics or business? Bannon's arrest exposes US administration's true nature: observer
Fraud case a peek into ‘dirty, corrupt’ US politics: analysts
Published: Aug 21, 2020 01:46 PM Updated: Aug 22, 2020 04:48 PM

Stephen Bannon removes his mask as he exits Manhattan Federal Court following his arraignment on fraud charges over allegations that he used the money raised for "We Build The Wall" on personal expenses, on August 20 in New York. Photo: AFP

While the world is focusing on whether the arrest of Steve Bannon, the man who opened the White House door for Donald Trump, will spark a 21st century Watergate scandal, the Chinese public and experts believe the incident further exposed the true nature of the Trump administration - a gang of businessmen who treat politics like a business - and will serve as a "lesson" to those not familiar with how dirty and corrupt US politics is.

The arrest of the former White House chief strategist, who was also Trump's election campaign advisor, has drawn attention around the world, as observers believe it could have an impact as huge as the Watergate scandal to US politics and the 2020 presidential election, while Chinese analysts pay attention to the potential impact on China-US relations.

For ordinary people in China, where Bannon is widely known as an "ardent China hawk," the case opened another crack for them to take a peek at the dirty and corrupt US political arena, and that under the poisonous atmosphere, anything can be manipulated like a business - as playing hard on China can also be profitable. 

Steve Bannon (right), watches as President Donald Trump (left) speaks on the phone with Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, in the Oval Office on January 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo: VCG

Politics or business?

Bannon pleaded not guilty on Thursday (local time) after he was charged with defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors through his "We Build the Wall" fundraising campaign.

He was released later on Thursday on a $5 million bond secured by $1.7 million in cash and/or property with co-signors.

Bannon, who masterminded Trump's run for US presidency in 2016 and was White House chief advisor, was indicted in the Southern District of New York, along with three associates. Prosecutors alleged the four defrauded donors who gave "more than $25 million to build a wall along the southern border of the United States," and some of the money was instead used for their own personal gain.

Asked about the matter on Thursday, Trump said he felt very bad about the incident, but said of Bannon, "I haven't been dealing with him for a very long period of time," adding that he felt the fundraising effort was "something I very much thought was inappropriate to be doing."

"I don't like that project," Trump said. "I thought it was being done for showboating reasons," the US president said, according to the Washington Post.

However, observers say building a border wall was a signature policy of Trump's election in 2016.

Bannon's arrest sparked heated discussions in China, and some criticized him for "using the 'anti-China' rhetoric as a scam to make money."

By simple deduction, Americans should be asking why Trump surrounded himself with such shady people, and what kind of person their president really is, Chinese observers said.

Under the current political atmosphere in the US, politicians tend to treat politics as business, and this was amplified by Trump, Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of the China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times on Friday. 

"Maybe it will teach a lesson to those not familiar with US politics on how dirty and corrupt the country's political arena really is," Li said. 

Shen Yi, an associate professor of international politics at Fudan University in Shanghai, pointed out that Bannon made his fortune through the "We Build the Wall" fundraising campaign that targeted Trump's base, while his constant bashing of China has also gained him infamy and wealth. 

"Now we know that Trump's team is full of 'principles' in terms of face, but they're all running after profit, like a business," Shen said.

Based on this case, maybe no one in the Trump administration is innocent, as their tactics to run the country and election campaign are similar to those used when running a company - that is, do whatever it takes to "seal the deal," Zhang Tengjun, an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Friday.

Several close aides of Trump have already been thrown into prison in recent years, including ex-Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty in 2018 to lying to Congress, financial crimes and campaign finance violations, as well as Trump's close friend Roger Stone, who also served as a campaign advisor, and was indicted for obstructing justice and intimidating witnesses.

File photo: AFP

A 21st century Watergate scandal?

The arrest of Bannon occurred 75 days before the presidential election.

Observers said it could have been the work of the Democratic Party, or the result of manipulation of Trump's opponents inside the Republican Party, Li told the Global Times.

Bannon, who was expected to play a part and give a push to Trump in this year's election, has become a liability to the Trump camp, and it won't be shocking to see Trump distancing himself from Bannon, Li said.

To what extent Trump was involved in the case, and if the fund Bannon raised was used to serve Trump's political agenda or to fund his campaign this year, has yet to be determined. And if proven, the impact of the case would be similar to the Watergate scandal, Li noted.

Chinese observers are closely watching how this would weigh on China-US ties.

In China, Bannon is called "the living fossil of paranoid madness" because his attitude toward China can no longer be described as hostility. He is considered hysterical, even insane. He once claimed that the China-US trade dispute was a "fundamental clash." Bannon simply has no idea about the globalized world and the complexity of major power relations. He is trying to make greed and fear the basic guideline for the US' China policy, some Chinese observers said.

Jin Canrong, associate dean of Renmin University of China's School of International Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday that Bannon's arrest could infuriate white conservative populists who strongly supported him, and might think that pro-establishment forces set Bannon up.

"The populists would be angered and react radically. This could lead to a significant impact on the presidential election and make the election more unpredictable," Jin noted.

About half a century ago, the Watergate scandal had caused a pause in the establishment of China-US diplomatic ties, and now, 75 days before the possible rotation of ruling parties in the US, which could also be a turning point of China-US relations, Chinese observers are paying close attention to the impact the incident could bring to the rocky relations between the two great powers.