A man who cites Darth Vader and Satan as two of his inspirations has just become the most powerful man in Washington
Steve Bannon, a self-described Leninist who wants to “destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment,” has risen to become one of the most powerful men in Washington.
Now the former director of extreme right-wing documentaries is currently writing and directing his biggest film yet: Trump's America.
It’s unbelievable to think but Bannon, a man who thinks “darkness is good,” and cites Dick Cheney, Darth Vader and Satan as evidence, is now sitting on the National Security Council, in place of the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Protest in Seattle against the travel ban on 29 January 2017 (Reuters)
Donald Trump’s executive order banning Muslim refugees, crafted by Bannon, was signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day. The White House Holocaust Remembrance Day tribute omits any mention of Jews, Judaism or anti-Semitism, because other people were killed too.
Democrat Senator Tim Kaine believes this was “not a coincidence, we have to remember… this is what Holocaust denial is.” If anyone has the chutzpah to make such a provocative point then it’s Bannon.
A champion of white nationalism, Bannon proudly turned Breitbart News into “the platform for the alt-right" (neo-Nazis) with goading headlines like “Why equality and diversity departments should only hire rich, straight white men”, “The solution to online ‘harassment’ is simple: women should log off” and “Political correctness protects Muslim rape culture.”
The Breitbartification of the White House
Bannon took his gift of trolling to new levels during the presidential campaign, deflecting accusations of sexual abuse by Trump by orchestrating a press conference with Bill Clinton’s alleged rape victims just before a debate with Hillary.
The gross spectacle and continued aggressive attack strategy played out well. The refusal to retreat, and double-down with offence, arguably gifted Trump the White House from the jaws of defeat.
Bannon views Trump as the perfect vessel to sell his brand of economic nationalism: the “greatest orator,” who “speaks in a non-political vernacular” that “communicates with these people [working-class Americans] in a very visceral way.”
Trump’s inauguration speech, authored by Bannon and right-hand man Stephen Miller (a Jewish adviser to Trump, who is reportedly good friends with white nationalist Richard Spencer, a man who quotes Nazi propaganda in the original German) was deeply disturbing in its national socialist tone.
The White House press office has transformed overnight into a hostile purveyor of fake news, aggressively attacking the media for spreading lies
The fact that the speech centred around the slogan "America first," a term first used by an American anti-Semitic neo-Nazi organisation, was not lost on Bannon. If anyone knows American neo-Nazis, then it’s the man who gave them a platform.
The White House press office has transformed overnight into a hostile purveyor of fake news, aggressively attacking the media for spreading lies, while White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has made a slew of outrageous statements, coining the now infamous phrase "alternative facts". His accusations are easily contradicted with hard evidence. But that isn’t the point.
Every day saw an executive order more shocking than the last, all hallmarked with the trolling Breitbart trademark of provocation, engineered specifically to goad fierce reaction.
Where is the resistance?
And so, out of the week from hell, a global resistance was born, united like never before. The usual suspects of the left had found some unlikely friends: politicians in high office, A-list celebrities, NASA, the Environmental Protection Agency and even the mainstream media.
The Woman’s March saw three million people demonstrate worldwide. The Muslim travel ban provoked protests in cities and airports all over Amercia. And yesterday, tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the UK at Trump’s proposed state visit. It gave you hope. But the resistance may have to tread very carefully if it is to outfox the wily fox.
On the face of it, it looks like Bannon may have overstepped the mark with one extreme policy too many. He could have operated in the shadows like his muse and notable counterpart Dick Cheney, who said in 2004: "Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole? It's a nice way to operate, actually."
But Bannon’s never been interested in subtleties. He doesn’t want to win over moderate Republicans. Equally, he has no time for billionaire donors. He hates established elites with a vengeance, let alone the metropolitan liberal elite who he despises with a passion. He has no desire for gradual change. He wants revolution, branding himself “Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors."
People gather for the Women's March in Washington. (Reuters)
Bannon is the unlikely heir to the Occupy Movement. Commenting on the Women’s March, he told Buzzfeed: “The beginning of all this was the anti-globalisation movement… Trump’s populism and nationalism really talk to the original economic issues these guys brought up.”
Ignazio Silone, Italy’s answer to George Orwell, wrote about the rise of fascism in his 1930 book Fontamara, and famously noted that “fascism was a counter-revolution against a revolution that never took place.”
If Barack Obama had been as radical as Bannon then would we currently be in this situation now?
The failure of Occupy and the left to capitalise on that movement, and turn it into a viable political alternative to the status quo, left the ground open for Bannon and the conservative extreme right to move in.
One is left to wonder: if Barack Obama had been as radical as Bannon, with his mandate for progressive hope and change left unfulfilled, or had Bernie Sanders not been derailed by the DNC and succeeded in his "revolution", then would we be in this situation now?
Revisting the 1930s
Last November, Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter: “We're going to build an entirely new political movement… It will be as exciting as the 1930s." He was talking about Franklin D Roosevelt's New Deal. But it's also worth revisiting that decade and listening to another key figure of the time:
"Only one danger could have jeopardised this development – if our adversaries had understood its principle, established a clear understanding of our ideas, and not offered any resistance. Or, alternatively, if they had from the first day annihilated with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement...
"Instead, they began to tyrannise our young movement by bourgeois means, and, by doing so, they assisted the process of natural selection in a very fortunate manner. From there on, it was only a question of time until the leadership of the nation would fall to our hardened human material…
"Nietzsche said that a blow which does not kill a strong man only makes him stronger… Every blow strengthens our defiance, every persecution reinforces our single-minded determination, and the elements that do fall are good riddance to the movement.”
Bannon’s plan for confrontation and conflict matches Adolf Hitler’s social-Darwinist outlook, which the German dictator delivered in his 1933 Nuremberg speech (above). You can’t help but wonder, as the world reels in shock and scrambles to deal with the fallout from Trump in the White House, how much fun Bannon is having.
The unheard variable
The stakes are extremely high, not to mention unpredictable. Pressure may well force Bannon out of office. Serious splits within the Republicans are already starting to form. Could Bannon's enemies mount a coup? Or influence Trump - a narcissist whose sole desire is to maintain kingship - to oust his number one confident?
It seems unlikely for now, considering how intimately the two most powerful men in the White House are linked, Trump the face to Bannon's brains. For all Bannon’s brashness, he is delivering exactly what Trump promised.
US President Donald Trump and Steve Bannon during a swearing in ceremony in Washington on 22 January 2017 (Reuters)
The unheard variable in all this, however, is Trump’s core base. They could well be buoyed by a politician strangely delivering on all of his promises: a recent study showed that almost 50 percent of Americans voters support Trump’s Muslim ban.
Trump polices may not improve their lives. But in an age of post-truth, all you need is the illusion of improvement or increased protection from an imagined, real or potential threat.
Islamophobia and fear are Bannon’s Trump card, and he is highly efficient in exploiting such fear. He made his very name off the back of it.
These are extremely scary times. If Bannon survives, and the resistance fails to strike a fatal blow, then the very fabric of American democracy, already downgraded to flawed, is at risk.
It's down to every one of us to play our part. History is watching.
- Charles B. Anthony is a writer, filmmaker, columnist, producer/host of Middle East Eye's Blink News and researcher for Will Self.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Image: Steve Bannon (AFP)