I’ve known two killers. Both were violent men who wore grudges on their sleeves for years before they committed murder. One is on death row for robbing a store and executing the cashier with bullets to the back of the head; the other served time for manslaughter after pushing his childhood rival off a 15-story balcony.
Neither killer has been as terrifying to me as Steve Bannon.
I have spent four years trying to raise awareness of what a dangerous man Bannon is — to point out the harmful intensity of his lobbying, the insidious nature of his hate speech, and his appetite for power. None of it mattered. The former CEO of Breitbart News has now ascended to unprecedented heights for a political hack.
He wore his grudges on his sleeve for years, vowing to murder American democracy and rule of law, and now Bannon is fulfilling those dreams from the most powerful office he’s ever inhabited.
Bannon was reportedly a key figure in events this weekend. Along with the loathsome Steven Miller, he convinced President Trump to ignore the Department of Homeland Security and include green card holders in an executive order barring immigration from the Middle Eastern countries where Trump has no business interests.
The resulting horror stories — a five year-old child being detained at Dulles airport, doctors and professors and actors and elderly couples held up elsewhere — are not accidents of this policy. They are exactly the people who Bannon wanted to shut out of America. Contrary to the propaganda he spews, Bannon is quite aware that a tiny number of Muslims are terrorists and isn’t foolish enough to actually believe that such an order will make Americans safer.
“Safety” is quite beside the point for Bannon, who has described himself as an admirer of Lenin. Like the founder of the Soviet Union, Bannon wants “to destroy the state” and “bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment” in order to remake the country in his own image, and he doesn’t care how many people he hurts in the process. In fact, the more Muslims he can punish, the better.
Paraphrasing George Orwell, power is not a means for Bannon, but an end in itself. His revolution is meant to safeguard his dictatorship, not the other way around. Donald Trump is his stepping-stone, not vice-versa. “The object of persecution is persecution,” Orwell’s protagonist is told in 1984. “The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power.”
Understand this, and you begin to understand Bannon: institutional chaos is not a byproduct of his agenda, it is what he intends from the start. Karl Rove was evil, but for all his faults, he operated within the parameters of lawful order, bending but never quite breaking them, to promote his boss. Nominally occupying the same position for Trump, Bannon wants to destroy that order, shattering all norms, in order to promote himself.
We will need to keep this in mind while we are adjusting to his new world.
Bannon, who had a junior Navy officer’s career in the 1970s, now sits on the president’s National Security Council — while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the nation’s highest-ranking military officer, does not. This fact will explain many future failings, such as the disastrous commando raid in Yemen last night, or wars with Iran based on conspiracy theories masquerading as intelligence, or a Chinese surprise attack in the Pacific. They won’t be errors or accidents, they will be his policy made manifest.
Trump’s policy towards Russia and right-wing parties in Europe will also reflect Bannon’s goal of “traditionalist” and “nationalist” restoration. Behind his rhetoric about evil “globalists” selling out Americans, Bannon is preoccupied by his fervid dream of replacing NATO and the EU with a new international coalition of ostensibly Christian, crypto-fascist governments to stand united against his enemies.
If Steve Bannon had never become a wealthy Goldman-Sachs alum or a Hollywood hanger-on or a friend of Robert Mercer, the right-wing billionaire investor who put him in charge of Breitbart.com after its founder’s death in 2012, Bannon would probably be a violent felon.
But he had those advantages, and now Bannon is easily the most powerful person in the White House, if not the planet. Should you find that fact terrifying, it only means that you are finally paying attention.
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