Sometimes, the symbolism of an action is as important as the action itself because it sends a message of what is to come—a statement of values and intentions. President-elect Donald Trump has named Stephen “Steve” Bannon as his “chief strategist and senior counselor,” the same role Karl Rove served in the George W. Bush administration and John Podesta served for President Obama. USA Today reported that in a series of interviews yesterday, Reince Priebus, the new chief of staff, took as many questions about Bannon as himself, that Bannon is “the story.”
CNN reports this morning that white nationalist leaders are the most vocal in their praise of Trump’s decision to name Bannon to this influential position.
“I think that’s excellent,” former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told CNN’s KFile. “I think that anyone that helps complete the program and the policies that President-Elect Trump has developed during the campaign is a very good thing, obviously. So it’s good to see that he’s sticking to the issues and the ideas that he proposed as a candidate. Now he’s president-elect and he’s sticking to it and he’s reaffirming those issues.”
Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker begins his article unequivocally entitled, “Steve Bannon will lead Trump’s White House” this way:
“I’m a Leninist,” Steve Bannon told a writer for the Daily Beast in early 2014. “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
If that were not enough to give the nonprofit sector pause, this New York Times list of Bannon and Breitbart quotes will give the nonprofit sector a sense as to why Bannon’s ascent to the West Wing was immediately and broadly condemned by Democrats and some Republicans alike as being divisive, if not racist. For a president taking office with few positions detailed, this appointment matters a great deal.
Bannon is a former Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker and the former chairman of Breitbart News. The Washington Post article discusses the “sharp rebuke” this appointment received from a wide range of political observers and strategists and organized groups such as the Anti-Defamation League. NBC News provides this list of diverse quotes about the appointment. The hate-watch group Southern Poverty Law Center observes that this appointment “goes directly against Trump’s pledge to be a president to ‘all Americans.’”
Bannon has a long history of bigotry. He has insinuated that African-Americans are “naturally aggressive and violent” and under his leadership, Breitbart’s publishing strategy turned to one that has made it the media arm of the racist Alternative-Right movement, publishing articles promoting popular white nationalist tropes such as “black on white crime” and that “rape culture” is inherent in Islam. Some of the key players in the Alt-Right movement, along with other well-established platforms for white nationalists have rejoiced in Trump’s appointment of Bannon to a key role.
You would make a mistake to simply categorize Bannon as a one-note bigot, or as merely a leader of the Alt-Right movement. More than a year ago, Bloomberg Businessweek described Bannon in a lengthy profile as being “the most dangerous political operative in America.” Now that Bannon has won this privileged position in the White House, his influence on the nation, let alone the president-elect, will have direct implications for the nonprofit sector. Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor, wrote this warning in August 2016, and updated it on November 13th, following Bannon’s new appointment as chief strategist and senior counselor.
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports that the Breitbart News network is expanding globally. In this interview with Mother Jones last August, after being named Trump’s new campaign chief, Bannon unabashedly boasted that Breitbart News was “the platform for the alt-right” and that he was responsible for inciting the populist nationalist movement “long before Trump came on the scene.” Bannon dismissed Trump the candidate as being “very late to this party.” Now that Trump is president-elect, whose “party” will it be?—James Schaffer