WASHINGTON – The ubiquitousness of Steve Bannon was crowned with a stone-faced portrait on the cover of this week’s Time magazine over the headline: “The Manipulator.” It’s another rare distinction for a political staffer now being cast in popular culture as some alt-right Rasputin.
Bannon has already declared that he sees Donald Trump as a blunt instrument for advancing his own beliefs — he’s shaped, articulated, refined a political philosophy, and the president of the United States is the delivery mechanism.
The gruff-looking ex-Navy man, Harvard grad, Goldman Sachs banker, film producer, and flame-throwing right-wing media exec swept into the epicentre of political power with new roles: first as Trump’s campaign chair, now as chief White House strategist.
Last week, he became the story. White House insiders grumbled to media that he’d pushed ahead Trump’s controversial travel restrictions, avoided departmental advice, and insisted on making it more aggressive.
There are now reports Trump is miffed. The policy’s been adjusted. And the president’s reportedly ordered employees to start following the proper chain of command.
So who is this multi-careered, thrice-divorced, in-house philosopher of the Trump White House? What does he believe? He’s provided ample clues, in frequent media appearances including when he hosted his own Breitbart radio show.
Here are some:
Believes a historic war is afoot
He began a 2014 talk to a Vatican gathering by noting it was the 100th anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. At the time, globalization was advancing. The world had peace. But within weeks, Bannon said, over one million were dead.
“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict… If the people in this room… (do) not… fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity… (it) will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,” he said, according to a transcript Buzzfeed published.
Radical Islam is one enemy, but not the only one
Regarding Islam, Bannon told the Vatican event: “(We’re) at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism… We have to face a very unpleasant fact. And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing… It’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today.” He criticized George W. Bush in 2010 for calling Islam a religion of peace: “Islam is not a religion of peace. Islam is a religion of submission. Islam means submission.”
Regarding China, he told his radio show last March: “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years, aren’t we? There’s no doubt about that. They’re taking their sandbars and making basically stationary aircraft carriers and putting missiles on those…. That’s a throwdown, is it not?”
Godlessness is weakening the West, he says. Bannon told the Vatican conference: “Secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals.”
Republicans regularly stress that they believe in immigration, aside from the illegal kind. Not Bannon. He says the U.S. has too many immigrants.
Immigrants cost American kids college spots and jobs, he told radio listeners: “What we’ve gotta get sorted here, is not illegal immigration — as horrific as that is, and it’s horrific — don’t we have a problem, we’ve looked the other way on this legal immigration that’s kind of overwhelmed the country?… Twenty per cent of the country is immigrants. Is that not the problem?… Is that not the beating heart of this problem?” Told the U.S. had four times more foreign-born residents than in 1970, Bannon called it “scary.”
He urged Trump to take a harder line. In a radio interview last year, Trump told Bannon he wished smart foreign students would stay in the U.S. after getting degrees at Harvard and Yale. Bannon disagreed: “I’ve got a tougher (view)… You know, when two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia… My point is… a country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.”
Former associates say he talked his way into the orbit of conservative political stars — Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, and finally Trump — using charm, and media projects to gain access.
Here’s how he greeted Trump during a November 2015 interview. Within seconds, Bannon stroked his ego multiple times: “I’m now honoured to have our guest, Mr. Donald Trump. Mr. Trump is one of the most successful real-estate entrepreneurs in the history of the country. He’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business… How many jobs have you actually created, do you know, in your life — high-paying jobs?”
Bannon expresses disgust with financial elites. It may seem inconsistent for a former Goldman Sachs banker working for a president who wants to deregulate banks. But he refers to bankers, and establishment politicians, as the “Party of Davos.” Bannon was reportedly infuriated by the events of 2008. His working-class dad lost retirement savings, while the bankers got bailouts.
He told the Vatican event the banks should be broken up. He added: “Think about it — not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis…. No bonuses and none of their equity was taken… I think that’s one of the fuels of this populist revolt that we’re seeing as the Tea party… I believe that they should have criminal indictments… The investment banks, and their stooges on Capitol Hill, they looked the other way.”
Complex views on capitalism
He is neither a laissez-faire capitalist, nor a fan of state-directed economies. What he believes, he told the Vatican, is a capitalism with a Christian conscience, guided by a sense of community and morality.
He said religious morality helped the Allies beat godless fascists in the last world war, then create broad postwar prosperity: “(It’s) an enlightened form of capitalism… Wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class… and created what we really call a Pax Americana.”
Reads a lot
The president isn’t known for reading. Bannon devours books.
He sprinkles historical references into observations. In his talk at the Vatican, organized by the Human Dignity Institute, he called Vladimir Putin a state-capitalist kleptocrat, and added: “Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of his beliefs … a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism. He’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which eventually metastasized into Italian fascism.”
Ultimate political goal
To destroy the modern Republican party. He wants it transformed into a nationalist-economic populist party like Europe’s right-wing movements. Bannon was raised in a Democratic household, became a Republican, and eventually turned on mainstream politicians in general.
He told the Vatican event: “I could see this when I worked at Goldman Sachs — people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run…. The Tea party in the United States’ biggest fight is with the the Republican establishment, which is really a collection of crony capitalists… And, quite frankly, we’re winning many, many victories.”