For Mr. Bannon, the assumptions and institutions of the Pax Americana brought victory over the Soviet Union, but they are already failing in a contest with China. Beijing, he claims, has learned to game the very system that most of Washington’s established analysts believe is the key to American strength.

The traditional view is that institutions like the World Trade Organization support U.S. power and security. Mr. Bannon sees them instead as facilitating a deliberate Chinese attack on the economic strength that underpins American social cohesion and military strength. To deal with a new kind of competitor in a new kind of contest, Mr. Bannon believes, the U.S. must move away from the international architecture of the past and embark on a radically new course.

In his view, voters already sense this, even if Washington’s power brokers don’t. “The country is ahead of the elites,” he told me. As China continues to export deflation as a means to stave off economic crisis at home—what Mr. Bannon calls Beijing’s mercantilist trade strategy—he expects growing effects on the incomes and jobs of Americans. At the same time, the geopolitical threat of rising Chinese power will be increasingly felt.