Worldbeaters: Spotlight on Steve Bannon
To some, he is an erudite voice in the wilderness not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths to an America enfeebled by ‘political correctness’. To others, he is like a dishevelled drunken stepfather using fear and manipulation to drag the US back into the sinister age of overt white racial domination. But there is no denying that as Donald Trump’s right-hand man, Bannon is now at the very centre of global power. He is widely held to be the intellectual force behind the rise of the Trump presidency and the white nationalist movement that underpins it.
Bannon has enjoyed a varied career, from naval officer and Goldman Sachs investment banker to anti-environment consultant, filmmaker and publisher. The subject of his films and the preoccupations of his former webzine, Breitbart News, give a clear sense of his political commitments. His filmography includes a lionization of Ronald Reagan, a defence of Sarah Palin, and an exposé of the ‘insidious’ Occupy movement. In Generation Zero he provides the standard rightwing boilerplate of recent US history, tracing the decline of the country back to the permissive and narcissistic 1960s generation, whose abandonment of ‘old-fashioned values’ has led to everything from weak-kneed multiculturalism to the 2008 banking crisis. The latter was nothing to do with Goldman Sachs. Go figure.
As a founder and moving spirit of Breitbart News, Bannon has sought to move the US Right in the direction of crude but obviously quite effective faux anti-state populism and white identity politics. But Bannon is cagey, always maintaining a certain ‘plausible deniability’ when it comes to his white nationalist credentials. So he claims not to be an ‘Islamophobe’, even though he believes that mainstream US Muslim organizations are trying to subvert the Constitution and impose sharia law. The wildly pro-Israel Bannon could not possibly be ‘antisemitic’, even though, under his watch, Breitbart News was casually and constantly so. Bannon cannot be accused of being ‘anti-Black’, although he thinks there is no systemic race problem in the US, that race is tied up with a sense of victimhood and that the Black Lives Matter movement against police violence is a leftwing conspiracy. All this serves as a kind of permission-giving for crazies inspired by the alt-Right to assault – even murder – those different from themselves. There has been a significant spike in incidents such as the desecration of Muslim and Jewish cemeteries and buildings since Bannon and Co came to power.
Bannon comes from working-class Irish Catholic roots in Virginia, and is keen on a moral rearmament based partly on a capitalism unhindered by almost any kind of regulation, but also on a ‘return’ to Christian values. But as a conservative Catholic, Bannon has a problem with Pope Francis’s values of humanitarian solidarity, and is allying himself with church conservatives such as US Cardinal Leo Burke and the Institute for Human Dignity, champions of a militant Catholicism set to do battle against insurgent Islam. Bannon’s other international connections are a roll call of the alt-Right, including a close relationship with former UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage and French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen of the far-right Front National.
Bannon is a big-picture guy – and a frightening one. Not for him the petty bickering on Twitter his boss is known for. He keeps his eye on the main prize, trying to build a muscular capitalism at home and abroad and to win a clash of civilizations of the whites against all those ‘lessers’. There hasn’t been someone like Bannon at the centre of global power since the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, though his recent removal from the National Security Council is a setback for the chief strategist.