By Conor Holohan
This month Time magazine’s cover features a picture of Donald Trump’s Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon, hauntingly captioned ‘The great manipulator’. Having left a job as chairman of provocateur platform Breitbart online to become Trump’s CEO before becoming chief strategist, Bannon had a hand in writing the inaugural address, the highly controversial travel ban executive order and he is now taking a seat on the National Security Council – a role usually insulated from politics – and Time even go as far as to ask if Bannon is the second most powerful man in the world.
Even though it seems that this ghoulish figure, who Saturday Night Live portrayed as the grim reaper and refers to himself as Darth Vader in jest, has just suddenly sprung himself upon us, he has in fact been in the business of manipulation for some time now, heading the very popular Breitbart.com, hosting a daily radio show and making an assortment of movies critical of the American left such as Clinton Cash and Occupy Unmasked.
This week Bannon has become the new target for those trying to sabotage the presidency of Donald Trump. The popular vote argument is over, the Russian hacking angle seemed to offer no real purchase, so the hunt for illegitimacy persists. Now the majority of the American media have identified Bannon as the really problematic force in White House, insisting that he has too much influence over Trump and urging people to #StopPresidentBannon by calling their senator and asking for his removal from the National Security Committee, since the appointment of a political director to the committee is almost unheard of.
But if there’s one thing Trump campaigned on, it was that he would challenge the status-quo and do things differently. The American electorate were aware that Trump was unorthodox in practice and in theory. Many would argue that Trump has earned the right to appoint Bannon to the role, given the perceived mandate to act radically that he received because his election victory was so symbolic of desired radical change to the political landscape.
The Bannon/Trump relationship, though, is these days the usual relationship between an advisor and the person they advise, and the hysteria around this instance seems to be overdone. Many Trump supporters accepted the fact that he had no political experience before his campaign and expected he would be guided by trusted advisors like Bannon should he win the White House.
Tony Blair, for instance, was heavily influenced by Alastair Campbell who was, like Bannon, a media man who had found his way into the top ranks of politics. Like Bannon, Campbell was also perceived by some as a sort of propagandist who knew how to manipulate the media in order to better the interests of his own cause, a skill which is highly sought after in politics especially in the digital age. Like Campbell, Bannon is facing an avalanche of criticism over his perceived inappropriate level of control over his nation’s leader, but in reality almost all politicians are surrounded by unelected civil servants and the politicians themselves become just puppets.
So if we can accept that this is common practice for the most part, we should turn our attention to Bannon’s actual beliefs. In the US, mainstream media outlets like CNN and MSNBC tend to label Bannon as a white supremacist. This is, however, entirely unsubstantiated. Bannon is also compared to Richard Spencer, a genuine white nationalist who hijacked the alt-right movement, which is a completely unfair comparison: Bannon, unlike Spencer, has never by anyone’s account been heard to say or do anything remotely resembling the views of a white nationalist.
The labels are applied to him because he is fond of the word nationalist, a dirty word it seems in today’s parlance that conjures up images of death camps and conflict. But to conflate nationalism with intolerance, hatred and suppression is disingenuous and theoretically unsound. Steve Bannon is an American Nationalist, which implies simply that the needs of the people within America’s borders are greater than the needs of those outside of them.
The ‘American’ element to his belief implies an embrace pluralism and religious tolerance, which are part of the constitution, a document he is very traditional about. Since Bannon is Trump’s in-house political guru, he will be shaping what will come to be known as Trumpism, and from the executive orders signed since he took office, we can see that they strongly resemble American nationalism. He and Trump also share the goal of bringing about the destruction of the establishment as they see it.
He’s called the mainstream media the opposition party, many news outlets quite fairly say he is obsessed with the history and art of warfare and he has been outspoken about an ‘outright war’ with Islamic terrorism. Last March he said on his radio show that he expected that America would be entering into conflict over China’s current ongoing series of military land grabs in the South China Sea in the next 10 years.
All of this and much more is being dug up and aired out to give you a good reason to think that a war mongering racist fascist is one of the President’s closest confidants. These claims strain credulity and can become harmful misconceptions if they are allowed to continue unaddressed in the media. To scrutinise Bannon and Trump’s politics is an important part of a healthy democracy, but to lie about his beliefs is detrimental to the democratic process and discourse.
No one who has ever worked with Bannon, even his enemies – and he loves making enemies – has ever accused him of being a white supremacist or of harbouring or espousing any other intolerant beliefs for that matter. The only things that most people agree on when speaking about Bannon is firstly that he is an extremely competent political strategist, and secondly that he loves the villainous image of being an enforcer who lurks in the shadows and strikes fear into the hearts of the Democrats.