You are the company you keep

Why we should care about Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon

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June 2016 — Trump Tower. A lightning bolt flashes over the New York skyline as a small hand pens a contract. Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, has caused the Republican nominee headache after headache. Trump is at his lowest point in the campaign. A single tear rolls down Lewandowski’s face as he walks out of Trump Tower.

Trump sinks back in his chair. He needs a new campaign manager. A good campaign manager. The BEST campaign manager.

Enter Steve Bannon. He has an impressive resume in conservative circles, with such experience as helping break Sarah Palin out of obscurity and transforming Breitbart News into the largest ‘alt-right’ online publication in the world.

Trump’s campaign stabilized after hiring Bannon, eventually leading to the situation that we find ourselves in today. Bannon’s effectiveness came from his ability to make Trump appealing to a populist and violently anti-establishment element of America that for much of American history has been outside the Republican voting base.

On top of this, under Bannon, Trump’s rhetoric became steadily more nationalistic, with policies like the infamous Muslim ban being announced after Bannon was hired. 

Throughout the campaign, Trump repeatedly admitted that he doesn’t know much about domestic and foreign policy and would simply surround himself with the BEST experts to advise him on the finer aspects of governing. Here lies the problem, and the relevance of Steve Bannon.

Bannon has had a large part in creating and propagating the ‘alt-right’ group, a loosely-related ideology of right-wingers who vehemently reject mainstream conservative movements, especially the Republican political establishment.

Bannon describes himself as an “economic nationalist”, and has in the past stated that he believes the “Judeo-Christian West” are locked in a war against Islam, according to The Washington Post. 

After winning the election, Trump made Bannon his chief political strategist, meaning he’ll be perhaps the closest advisor helping Trump pen policy. Bannon was a skilled campaign operative due to his ability to appeal to further right elements within the American public, however, any political science major can tell you, there’s a major difference between campaigning and governing.

Simply put, campaigning is the art of getting people to vote for you. It involves giving speeches, making media appearances and other outreach, all things that Trump has been good at throughout his career.

Governing however, is much more about the policies themselves that will be implemented. This isn’t Trump’s strong suit, meaning many of the people who were instrumental in his campaign will be influential in drafting policy that Trump puts into effect. What happens when those who were most instrumental in Trump’s campaign have an ideology that many have called fascist?

Since being appointed into the Trump administration, Bannon has been able to effectively position himself as a main power broker, very much involved with these issues of governing. It has become increasingly clear that Bannon has undue influence over Trump, and is pushing him in a nationalist, right-wing direction. 

A prime example of this is Trump’s increasingly-hawkish rhetoric towards countries like Syria and Iraq. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly promised to stop American imperialism in the Middle East, but since Bannon took control, Trump has said things like advocating taking Iraq’s oil to combat ISIS.

Just look at the Trump cabinet, many of whom follow to some degree Bannon’s nationalistic ideas. Picks like Jeff Sessions for attorney general, who has faced allegations of racism, Steve Mnuchin for Treasury secretary, who failed to disclose almost $100 million of his own assets, and Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, who doesn’t believe in public education, instead favouring controversial religious charter schools, according to The New Yorker. 

Perhaps the most alarming part of Bannon’s appointment however is his unprecedented position on the National Security Council (NSC). The NSC is reserved for the American military establishment, and deals with American use of force. By bringing Bannon into the NSC, Trump is also bringing these nationalist ideas into one of the only rooms on the planet that holds the keys to a nuclear arsenal.

We’ve all heard that you’re only as good as the company you keep. If this is true, we can easily predict the direction of the Trump administration by examining the company he keeps. If Trump wants to avoid making Bannon his own Dick Cheney, he needs to stop ceding power to a man who clearly has his own ideological agenda.

For us in the global population, if we’re going to effectively argue against the rise of far-right nationalism in our own countries, we must identify the types of individuals from which these ideologies first arise. 

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