I think I’ve figured out Steve Bannon, which is, of course, a very important thing to do. I’ve already made my opinion of our so-called President pretty clear, but simply focusing on the Don’s obvious personal flaws won’t do justice to the political movement linked to his name. In this posting, and several that follow, I’ll be assessing Trumpism, not Donald Trump, and for that it’s necessary to understand Bannon, formerly head of Breitbart News, now philosopher-in-residence at the White House.
Some may wonder whether he really deserves to be called a philosopher, but he certainly has a comprehensive world-view, as we’ll see.
Much has been written about Bannon, usually focusing on the sins of Breitbart or the administration’s latest avoidable gaffe. Since I’m an aficionado of political theory, I’m going to be a lot tougher on him. I’ll start with what appears to be his best effort to rationally justify himself, dissect it, and note what I find inside. For this, I’ll need a text to eviscerate. Bannon hasn’t written a book, so the pundits have taken some remarks he made to a Vatican conference in 2014 to be the best available statement of his point of view, and I’ll be using the transcript of those comments, along with Bannon’s responses to his hearers’ follow-up questions, as the basis of my autopsy.
We should note that the conference in question was sponsored by the Human Dignity Institute, an organization that, according to its website – which features a plug by Bannon – is devoted to “supporting … the Christian voice in the public square” by “coordinating affiliated parliamentary working groups … throughout the world.” It’s connected to ultra-conservative circles within the Catholic Church, including Cardinal Raymond Burke, a leading opponent of Pope Francis.
We might further note that the conference occurred before Bannon was affiliated with Trump – indeed before the Don’s Presidential campaign had even begun. So these remarks should probably be regarded as an articulation of Bannon’s priorities – what he hopes to achieve by allying himself with Trump. Of course, as long as he has that White House office, his priorities are likely to be the President’s, as well.
Liberals don’t like much of anything about Trump, and they like Bannon least of all. He’s seen as a distillation of pure evil, and every epithet denoting (in their opinion) wrongness has been affixed to his name, the most common being “white nationalist”– in remembrance, I guess, of the occasionally racist tenor of Breitbart. In a future post, I’ll have something to say about that rather stupid term – in the context of the United States, it’s an oxymoron – but some folks have adopted it to describe themselves, and are currently fouling the internet with their effusions. I won’t give a link to their sites, since I have standards, but you can easily find them.
Is Bannon one of these? In fact, judging by his remarks at the aforementioned conference, I see no reason to think he is. He doesn’t say much on the topic, and what he says is vague and not very satisfactory, yet he leaves the clear impression that racism isn’t his thing. I’ve no access to his innermost thoughts, but his public stance, at least, displays no white supremacist tendencies.
I’d put Bannon in a rather different category. I’d call him a Christian nationalist. He doesn’t use the term, but it fits him perfectly – in that he explicitly aligns himself both with a stirring call to defend the “Judeo-Christian West” and with the populistic movements currently arrayed in Europe and elsewhere against “the party of Davos.” I’ll say right at the beginning that I find this viewpoint deficient in logic. There’s a real contradiction involved with putting Christianity, a universalistic religion, together with nationalism, which focuses on the particular interests of a given people, though Bannon seems oblivious to this. Also, the two can be reconciled only by considering Christian belief to be essential for membership in a national community. Bannon never explicitly acknowledges this, but his whole argument falls to pieces if it’s not presumed. This, of course, is especially troubling for a Pagan.
I’m not using this terminology with any particular precision, by the way. There’s a tribe of ultra-right-wing Christian theocrats, variously known as Reconstructionists or Dominionists, who think the United States government should be recast along Mosaic lines, and gays and witches stoned to death like the Bible says. These people have been known to call themselves Christian nationalists. Bannon isn’t one of these in the fullest sense, but he’s similar enough to be scary – to me, anyway.
No sooner did I reach this conclusion about Bannon’s point of view than I found someone else who’d already noticed it – with regard to Trump rather than Bannon, but that only underlines how close those two are. There’s even a website – which Pagans should monitor on the theory of “know your enemy” – that’s dedicated to publicizing Christian nationalism and touting the Don as its champion.
If I were being absolutely precise, I’d label Bannon a Judeo-Christian nationalist, to conform to his phraseology – from a Pagan perspective, no better. I’ll stipulate that he shows no sign of anti-Semitism, whatever liberals may think.
In my next posting, I’ll review some of what Bannon said to that Vatican talk-fest back in 2014, and show how it validates my observations here.
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