This WaPo investigation of Steve Bannon’s residency has attracted a lot of attention in Never Trump circles, most of it quite self-righteous. My own feelings about the scandal are more nuanced and sympathetic, in spite of the appearance of sleaze. The gist of the article is that Bannon fraudulently registered to vote at three addresses in Florida where he never actually lived, presumably for the purpose of evading income tax in the states where he was working and physically present. There’s some rich white trash gossip blended into the story, too–acid in the hot tub, blacklisting by real estate agents for trashing the mansion, cuckoldry by the third ex-wife who was also smuggling drugs into the county lockup, that kind of thing–but the justification for this Steely Dan deep track in prose is that Bannon was shady and naughty in his statements about where he lived.
That’s the part where I have to side with Bannon for personal and civic reasons. If there’s evidence that he was evading state income tax in California, the Franchise Tax Board should investigate him and move to collect any back taxes and penalties that he is determined to owe. Florida has a sleazy history as an onshore liability island for wealthy fugitives from taxation and civil judgment, as publicly conceded by noted Floridian of convenience, Kato Institute benefactor, sports memorabilia enthusiast, and Nevada baseball coach O. J. Simpson. It also gave semi-disgraced former California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush a peace officer’s commission. As a failed police applicant, I think that rules.
But California’s rights to collect lawful taxes and civil judgments from debtors who have fled its territory or renounced legal residency in an effort to evade its jurisdiction ex post facto do not limit the right of former California residents to register to vote in Florida in accordance with Florida law. Florida is famously permissive about overseas absentee registrations, or at least was in the days of the Brooks Brothers Riot and the hanging chads. If it’s similarly permissive in its registration of part-time or casual residents who spend most of their time in other states or territories, that affects California only insofar as California’s elections officials should try to cancel the duplicate registrations of voters who have reregistered out of state.
Even if the Trump Administration has a hypocritical projection complex about individual voter fraud because it’s teeming with officials whose voter registrations are irregular (e.g., two states at once), and even if Bannon’s ties to Florida were as nonexistent as his ostensible neighbors suggest they were, Bannon had a chaotically itinerant mode of living that limited his ties to any particular jurisdiction. If you think that this rootlessness abrogated his right to vote, good luck turning back the same half a century or so of federal case law that allows me to vote in a city where I’ve spent a total of two or three weeks in the past five years. California uses intent to return as an alternate means of maintaining legal residency for voters not physically present in their most recent domicile. That is, in layman’s terms: I lives here; can I come in? Florida, according to the WaPo article, does not have a legal definition of residency. If the butthurt whiners complaining to the authorities that he didn’t actually live in Florida succeed in getting action taken against him, Bannon can always say, basically, “what does that even mean, ‘live here?'” He already has lease and utility documents in his name ready for his defense, documents indicating that he did live there, or else was allowed to live there (can I come in?), along with a busy schedule in other states that he can use to assert that he didn’t have time to visit Florida, his home.
The people ratting him out for his bogus voter registration are a precise civic analogy for Mean Girls: “She doesn’t even go here!”
It sure looks like a Stanford stunt, Florida being to sworn Floridian Stephen Kevin Bannon what Antigua was to mandatory Floridian Robert Allen Stanford, but as a US citizen whom no one had gone to the trouble of legally disenfranchising, he has a right to vote somewhere. Why would he want to vote in Florida and not in some other place where he was actually spending time? That’s his decision to make, not yours or mine. Why did he not actually turn out to vote, according to official records? That’s absurd, especially in the midst of all this tut-tutting about the bogus registrations, but again, it was his decision to make.
The scolding gets even worse when it starts concerning discrepancies between Bannon’s driver’s license (Orange Bubble, apparently) and voter registration (again, in the Sunshine Up Your Ass State). At this point, the only way to make Bannon look bad is by rebuking him for not spending enough time at the DMV. It takes a special kind of dipshit to want to die on that hill, but Trump’s milkshake has brought all kinds of liberal Looney Tunes to the yard. There are less fitting and just reasons for the Democratic Party to finally die than a platform demanding that its political enemies submit in full to the arbitrary whims of the shittiest, most dysfunctional parts of the administrative state. I’d hazard a guess that Bernie Sanders, like me, doesn’t care about his damn voter registration. That’s just the latest reason why Bernie would have won. I’d hazard a corollary guess that the DLC wing of the party, the one consuming it from the inside, really is arrogant enough to try to crucify Steven Bannon for not getting a Florida driver’s license.
Here we have a political lunatic and deadbeat absentee father, a multimillionaire presidential adviser with rights to luxury corporate housing wherever he travels who looks like he lives in an Econoline cargo van full of Top Ramen and Wild Turkey that he parks on crappy parts of PCH, and I’m almost entirely on his side for falsely claiming residency in Florida and then failing to vote on at least three successive voter registrations. I’m on his side because the mob is ganging up on him not just for being a crook, but for being low-class. I’m on his side because a bunch of bourgeois assholes are trying to bully a fellow citizen out of their electorate for sounding trashy. I’m on his side because those of us who sleep in our cars have a right to vote, too. It ain’t me all the time, lawd, but it’s me enough of the time, and I’m not about to forget it. We don’t need a fixed address to vote. All we need is some combination of a street corner, rescue mission mail room, PO box, and friend’s apartment, along with enough executive function to remember the election date before it passes.
Millions of Americans live shabby versions of Steve Bannon’s itinerant lifestyle. I’ve been one. Many of them have forsaken their right to vote on account of the chaos or restrictive advice about their civil rights. I’m thankful not to have been disenfranchised in this fashion. I’m proud that I’ve asserted my right to remain on the voter rolls as a legal resident of a slumlord apartment that I formally abandoned pursuant to Green v. Superior Court half a decade ago. The endgame of letting people with messy personal or professional lives vote in jurisdictions to which they have weak ties is much more procivic than the endgame of letting local busybodies suppress the voting rights of eligible voters who have chosen to undertake itinerant lifestyles or been run out of town. Having rented from thuggish slumlords in a county with a weak, largely underground labor market and subsequently gone out of state for work and better housing, I fall into both categories. My civic stake in Humboldt County is not one that I’ll allow some stuck-up, easily scandalized bourgeois shithead to take away from me just because I’m not in the area enough of the time.
Bannon’s circumstances are surprisingly similar to mine. Even if his Florida voter registration was a tax structuring device, the scandal-mongering over it is a dangerous assertion of combined bougie Democrat and bougie establishment Republican will to suppress voter turnout. Both constituencies want to suppress marginal voters because both have self-serving policy goals that will alienate the hell out of a broad, strongly engaged electorate. Their great point of agreement these days is the feeling that it’s deplorable to see so many deplorables elect such a deplorable. They keep standing by shit candidates who would be hopeless in high-turnout elections and are lately getting booed by their own constituents when they show their true colors.
To paraphrase Christopher Lasch, our elites are revolting. They think much the same of us. They don’t want to share their electorate with losers who hot-bunk in cracker shacks. Questioning the citizenship of Steve Bannon, possible Cracker in Spirit, is a useful proxy attack on the uppity lumpenproletariat. It’s easier and less overtly disreputable than admitting to their own monumental class bigotry, just as smearing low-class whites feels less scummy than saying the same things about the same behaviors on the part of low-class blacks.
Tough shit. Trash is citizens, too, massa.