The Danger of Bannon

In his 2014 talk at the Vatican, Steve Bannon attempted to rally concern about a world plagued by standing elites who have sapped the middle class wealth of western democracies by exercising “crony capitalism.” His assertions, when isolated from his other nationalist viewpoints, could be straight from the lips of Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who frequently use the same war cries. In his constructed reality, the “Davos elite” have pulled on the strings of power to shield themselves in the warm cloak of globalism and an internationalist ideology that has destroyed the working class, and threatens crucial Judeo-Christian foundations. The West, he asserts, is failing to guard our very strengths by letting in radical Islam and ceding ground to oppositional ideologies. The alt-right platform, Breitbart, was his sword for striking down the elite and their institutions. It doesn’t take much to catch his theme, which points a finger of blame at the Republican Party as much as the liberals. It seemed clear that his first step was to target and destroy the Republican establishment with his Tea Party followers, bringing down well-funded politicians like Eric Cantor and John Boehner. Sure, he would have to battle the liberals eventually, but that would come later, after his movement gave birth to a new conservative party.

It’s always hard to know whether someone’s rhetoric represents something akin to his or her core beliefs, or if it’s simply intended to derive a particular effect. Does Steve Bannon really concern himself with the hedge fund managers who extract capital without reciprocating value creation? Perhaps. Or is this a savvy method of drawing support from the white working class who have traditionally staffed the ranks of liberal constituencies? Also possible. One thing is clear, Steve Bannon does not represent interests that are familiar in our Post-WWII western world. A self-described Leninist, his desire to “burn it all down” doesn’t necessitate order, tradition, or consensus building. Now that he sits in the halls of power, his challenge is not letting Trump despair in the righteousness of his vision, or to simply get bored with him. I wonder, as he looks at the rising activism of the Left, the protesters in the streets, if he smiles to himself. Donald Trump is clearly not Steve Bannon’s endgame, but rather a beachhead for establishing influence to wage his campaign of disruption. It is by no means certain he will succeed to any degree that he imagines; in the end he may fly too close to the sun and lose his wings.

I am concerned about the rise of white nationalism, in this country and in others, but these elements do not represent the greatest threat that Bannon brings to the table. Bannon looks at these alt-right soldiers, derivatives of the KKK, as an ugly but benign tumor, something he can’t remove without killing his own movement, and the movement must survive. It is a movement he envisions will be capable of writing the next page of history, one that tears the US out from under the control of globalists and reestablishes some former glory, one I would contend never truly existed. Any assertion, by Bannon or others, that the US can back-peddle out of international engagement without severe diminishment of our capacity to achieve critical interests, is very misguided. While some will contend that we live in a more dangerous world, we also live in an age where major powers largely maintain the peace between each other. The conclusion of the Cold War has ushered in conflict between small states, lesser powers, non-state actors, and weak-failing states, but we have thankfully moved away from an era of global military competition. Trade, communication, and international cooperation have worked, diffusing tensions, raising the stakes of failure and lowering the likelihood of any given state using force to establish policy. This is not to whitewash our challenges, but rather to put this into a perspective that will allow us to better weigh the risks of discarding the international buffers that protects us from war. By misdirecting our fear towards Islam and placing blame on trade agreements, Bannon is quite actively leading us towards greater global danger.