The Steve Bannon Shit Show (2017–2017)
Here are some words I wrote around the time when Steve Bannon was first being considered for a role as White House adviser:
When Hannah Arendt wrote about the “banality of evil,” she was referring to men like Steve Bannon. Because he looks like the dad in a Gap Kids ad, the national media is loathe to classify him as a white nationalist, an anti-Semite, unrepentant misogynist and race-baiter extraordinaire. America likes its racists to be florid and flamboyant: wearing white pointed hoods, burning crosses, that sort of thing. In the minds of some members of White America, an individual like Bannon can’t possibly be racist because he never uttered the n-word in public or was seen reading Mein Kampf. Today’s alt-right white nationalists are canny enough not to tip off mainstream America to their bigotry by eschewing the buzzwords we commonly associate with racism; hell, they even have their own secret language where terms like “cucks” are bandied about to throw “normies” off the scent of their fetid hatred. It’d be adorable if it wasn’t so fucking frightening.
Speaking from personal experience, the racists I’ve encountered in my life look and sound a lot more like Bannon than, say, David Duke. You can smell a Duke coming a mile away, but a dude like Bannon might laugh with you, put his arm paternally around your shoulder while concealing (not too well, though) the full extent of his disgust for you. Unassuming guys like Bannon can fuck with your racial Spidey sense because they can make a comment that seems fairly innocuous until you examine it later and realize that they left a slow-detonating bomb in your chest. When I moved down South several years ago, I feared encountering the outsized racists you see in movies and TV, but by and large that hasn’t been the case. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve met racists here but they’re more Bannon-like except with a slight twang and a love of Tex-Mex food. They aren’t much better or worse than the racists you see up North, “respectable” men and women in crisp khakis who smile in your face by day and mutter at night to their spouses that you wished people like me didn’t live in their neighborhood. But at least they had the good grace not to literally spit in your face, right?
Just some things to think about as you hear the press try to normalize Steve Bannon as a White House senior adviser.
With the announcement that Bannon will be leaving the White House effective immediately, I’m happy to have the opportunity to write the coda to his brief yet rancorous career in public service. When Bannon was first tapped, he outlined an ambitious agenda to revolutionize the federal government that sent a chill down the collective spines of liberals and progressives. Arguably his most high-profile policy initiative was the Muslim travel ban that sought to bar immigrants from six Muslim-majority countries. Despite several efforts to get it passed in the courts, the ban suffered a number of resounding defeats until the Supreme Court passed it on a provisional basis barring a full review this fall. Though this decision by the Court is no doubt depressing, one finds comfort in the fact that the precedent set by the lower courts will have some sway.
During his time in public life, Bannon was a highly divisive figure whose infamous past as executive chair of the noxious Brietbart News made him ill-suited to be White House adviser. Though this is just speculation, the final straw may have been a contentious interview Bannon recently gave The American Prospect in which he admitted that his boss was bluffing when he threatened military action in North Korea and taunted the Democrats’ focus on “identity politics.” It seems unlikely that the president was upset about Bannon’s jibes at the Democrats — he probably chortled along with his underling on that score — but it’s quite possible that the thin-skinned one chafed at the North Korea talk and decided to cut bait on his influential adviser.
No matter how it went down, Bannon’s ouster from the White House is a moment that should be celebrated. Still, this news doesn’t call for the sort of flexible sexual gymnastics that Bannon is reportedly capable of. The Justice Department is still helmed by a man with an extensive history of practicing legal racial discrimination and who was censured by no less than Correta Scott King herself. This administration still employs a senior adviser who has espoused white nationalist views in the past and who recently mocked the Emma Lazarus poem located on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. The president has a deputy assistant with an academic and policymaking career steeped in white nationalist and Islamophobic rhetoric. And we haven’t even gotten to the Racist-in-Chief himself, whose own bigoted statements are so extensive and well-known at this point that they hardly need repeating.
Even without Bannon, this administration won’t be significantly less racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic. The real source of intrigue and speculation centers around Bannon’s post-Trump plans and how they might further destabilize an already toppling White House. Soon after Bannon’s ouster, his former employer Breitbart expressed its displeasure and threatened to “go thermonuclear” against the administration. That sort of talk prompts the following reaction from yours truly: