Steve Bannon Brings The Alt Right Lunatic Fringe To The Mainstream & Front And Center In Trump’s White House
Theodore Roosevelt famously coined the term “lunatic fringe” as the inevitable extreme of any movement. In response to the candidacy of Barack Obama and later his two terms as President, the conservative lunatic fringe, or as Richard Spencer coined them in 2010, the “alternative right,” (aka, “alt right”) found a home in media outlets like Breitbart News. Far right Breithbart News and other alt right media outlets have been associated with white nationalism, racism, white supremacy, and Neo-Nazism. Media outlets and those who subscribe to them were once considered well outside of the mainstream and not operating and opining within the values of even a Republican party that was on the attack against President Obama in an unprecedented fashion…until now.
Then candidate Donald Trump brought in Executive Chairman of Breitbart News to help lead and orchestrate his presidential campaign. Since winning the Presidency, Donald Trump has elevated this very controversial alt right figure to the position of Chief Strategist giving him unabated access to the Oval Office and allowing him an open invite to the National Security Council.
Steve Bannon presided over a Breitbart News that had offensive headlines such as:
- “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew”
- “Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate”
- “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy”
He has also been personally quoted on many occasions making offensive statements like the reason he gave for the left vilifying conservative women because they are not “A bumch of dykes.” Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke called Bannon’s selection “excellent,“ and Peter Brimelow, who runs the white nationalist site VDARE, called it “amazing.”
While Bannon is highly controversial, he is by all accounts very smart and is an effective manipulator. He clearly has seized on the fact that the first way to gain access to Donald Trump is to be nice to and complement Donald Trump. To his credit, Trump also understands that his biggest obstacle to his agenda is a free press that will hold him accountable at every turn. Bringing into his circle the alt right media whose followers have already embraced the notion that all mainstream media are part of a liberal conspiracy of left wing biased or fake news empowers Trump to deflect and redirect critics of his administration.
Trump knows that his core base that is fearful of a time when their country (whether they admit it to others or even themselves) elected its first black President, fearful of foreigners and immigrants, fearful of an empowered LGBT community, and that embraces isolationist and nationalist sentiments will cheer at any initiative he takes to make good on his harsh campaign rhetoric and promises. Trump and Bannon are also keenly aware that those that may not comprise his base but voted for him more as a mandate against Hillary Clinton or against the US political class are still generally content to wait and see how his actions play out…for now.
Case in point, while Trump could have reached out to the majority of the country that did not vote for him with a message of hope and unity, his inaugural speech that Steve Bannon helped write was instead dark and incendiary; going as far to paint those that did not support his campaign as his enemies. This is a strategy that the Nazi propaganda machine brilliantly made use of. Recall that Nazis were long considered an extremist minority who wore funny uniforms, until enough wealthy and powerful people gradually supported them and gave them enough credibility gain power.
Applying another tool of the Nazis, Trump and Bannon are engaging in a political blitzkrieg of executive orders that sit quite well with Trump’s minority base while the majority of Americans of many political leanings feel overwhelmed and fearful of what may come next. While many see this strategy as a sign of incompetence of a man that has never served in public office who is learning on the job, it may well be that it is in fact a deliberate series of shock events designed precisely to jar the political system and civil society, leaving disorientation and disruption among the public and the political class to further consolidate power.
Besieging your adversaries until nothing makes any sense relentlessly giving them no time to absorb or recover from attacks is a time-tested strategy in the history of war and authoritarian takeovers. Remarkably, in the United States with our history of maintaining the pinnacle of Democracy, this strategy is working even in this day an age. With one crisis another, notice how the conservation has turned away from Trump’s business conflicts of interest, tax returns, and ties to Russia. And as he continues to beat away with a constant fresh flurry crises du jour, it will remain challenging for the media and his loyal opposition to call Trump out with new emergencies always to be addressed.
These are the strategies that authoritarians use to divide us to gradually erode away our freedoms until one day there is little left in the arsenal of the opposition to combat them. The United States to be sure has embarked on one of its biggest tests to its democracy to withstand the ambitions of would be dictators bent on a new political order.