"President" Steven Bannon: The Grey Eminence

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Bannon. Fox screen shot

The Trump presidency is entering its second month. It has been surreal watching the showman signing executive decisions in the full glare of camera lights and making sure his signature, an extension of his narcissist self is projected on the screen.
In between signing shows, we have been treated to a barrage of outrageous claims, conspiracy theories, blatant lies and if need be, fabrication of events that never happened- Remember “ thousands cheering on the roof in New Jersey as the World Trade Center fell” and his latest “Look at what happened in Sweden last night” imaginary violence by immigrants in his mind, a comment which baffled the Swedes themselves.
If not Trump, his surrogates would shill for him as Kellyanne Conway did citing “the Bowling Green Massacre”, a fictitious event that lives only in the minds of the Trumpian world of alternative facts.
How in the world did we get to these extraordinary situation? One has to go back to the primaries to make some sense of this.
The early months of Trump’s primary campaign were characterized by incessant gaffes and missteps, firing of one campaign manager after another with no coherent message except for his racist, misogynist and Islamophobic stance that remained constant.
His messages of hate and bigotry resonated with the white supremacist nativists. It was otherwise a chaotic campaign with no clearly defined ideological focus on the issues that matter, seeming to frequently contradict himself on the campaign trail.
Enter Steven Bannon of Breitbart News infamy and Conway as campaign advisor and manager respectively. Bannon saw an undisciplined self-absorbed and ambitious candidate who shared his own sinister vision for America; a populist who needed to be guided, educated and packaged to sell the alt right white supremacist agenda.
The loose cannon was now tamed and was assiduously following the script penned and handed to him by his Svengali. The hateful message that was coming out from the script however was so abhorrent that each of his primary opponents and the establishment Republicans were dissociating themselves from the hateful words but not repudiating the candidate himself as their standard bearer. Hypocrisy and opportunism trumped principle; one by one they pledged allegiance to the man that had humiliated them with insults and vulgarities.
The strategy orchestrated by Bannon served Trump well and propelled him to capture the White House against all odds. So, who is Bannon?
He holds master’s degree in national security studies from Georgetown and an MBA from Harvard. After a 7-year stint in the Navy he joined Goldman Sachs, where he rose to vice president by the time he left to set up his own boutique investment bank.
It was here that he negotiated the merger of Castle Rock entertainment with Ted Turner and he took a stake in Seinfeld in lieu of payment for his services. Seinfeld has made him millions and he continues to get royalties from it in syndication.
He had a lackluster career in Hollywood. His Islamophobia became apparent with his documentary film “Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Fascism in America”. He considers CAIR and ISNA, American Muslim advocacy organizations as cultural jihadists. His Islamophobia is fed by his paranoia and fear of the establishment of Islamic Republic of the United States, enabled by the likes of the American Jewish Committee, ACLU, CIA, FBI, State Department and the White House, before its current occupant.
He calls media outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NPR "the universities of the left."
When Andrew Breitbart, the muckraking founder and publisher of the far right news outlet Breitbart News died in 2012, Bannon became its head. Under Andrew, Breitbart News was the voice of the radical conservatives and did not espouse the openly racist tone it came to acquire under Bannon.
Many believe that Andrew was not a racist. Bannon quickly transformed it, in his own words, to a "forum for the alt-right", a gathering place of white supremacists-(they like to call themselves white nationalists nowadays) anti-Semites, nativists and Islamophobes.
Bannon was host of Breitbart News Daily a SiriusXM radio show, whose guests included several known rabid Islamophobes. Josh Harkinson writing for Mother Jones, describes them as “Steeped in unfounded claims and conspiracy theories, the interviews paint a dark and paranoid picture of America's 3.3 million Muslims and the world's second-largest faith. Bannon often bookended the exchanges with full-throated praise for his guests, describing them as 'top experts' and urging his listeners to click on their website and support them”.
The article goes on to say that many of the former employees of Breitbart News characterize Bannon as “a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination. Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not”.
Comfortably ensconced as the grey eminence in the White House, exercising immense powers that impacts the lives of Americans and people across the globe without the scrutiny of Congress, no wonder some like the New York Times editorial have dubbed him "President Bannon."
His appearance at the recent CPAC gathering left no doubt as to who was calling the shots as he articulated his vision into “three verticals or three buckets: the first is kind of national security and sovereignty, the second is economic nationalism and third… is deconstruction of the administrative state.”
He describes himself as the disruptor and thrives on chaos so that he and his alt-right ideologue friends can refashion the US government to reflect their white supremacist vision for America.
Whether it is the Muslim ban executive order, choice of cabinet posts (“If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction”), or attempts to clamp down the press (“Keep your mouth shut”) which Trump has now called the "enemy of the people," the finger prints of a man whose lust for power is matched only by his nominal boss are evident. “What we are witnessing is the birth of a new political order” he told the Washington Post last month.
The xenophobic pronouncements, attacks on the press and judiciary by the president, the language and symbols of the alt-right, eerily reminiscent of 1930 Germany (“Celebrate like it is 1933” Richard Spencer head of alt-right says), can the brown shirted Stormtroopers be far behind?
We can’t say we have not been forewarned.

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