Steve Bannon: Bigot, Cynic or Brave Contrarian?
The fight over Trump's chief of strategy highlights the deep fissures on the Right.
There’s a proxy war being fought right now over the future of a Trump administration. Some pundits on the left and the globalist right are targeting Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s winning campaign chairman, as a racist and anti-semite. Trump named Bannon his chief strategist last week, which launched a full-on sharknado of criticism — much of it coming from Democrats and NeverTrump Republicans. Here is Ian Tuttle’s take at National Review, John Podhoretz’s at Commentary, and (former Bannon employee) Ben Shapiro’s at The Daily Wire.
They have many complaints, but on the racism charge, the critics prove nothing more than the fact that Bannon was a wily media entrepreneur, willing to poke at the edges of taboo subjects in order to drive up traffic on a generally conservative if sensationalist site (Breitbart). I know, because I’ve written for it — for instance, a piece debunking the charge (exhumed by a reporter at Paul Ryan’s November 15 press conference) that Breitbart’s criticisms of Rep. Ryan are “anti-Catholic.” Breitbart serves a valuable purpose by offering a venue where such arguments won’t get censored by nervous nelly editors worried what their friends at Slate will think of them.
The Guilt-By-Association Method
These attempts to destroy Bannon follow a time-tested formula used against skeptics of globalism:
- Call Mr. X a racist or anti-Semite.
- When pressed for evidence, if there isn’t any, cite some old friend or one-time associate of Mr. X, who can be plausibly framed as prejudiced — in little munchable sound bites, shorn of context. Demand to know why Mr. X hasn’t already denounced his former associate. Muse publicly about how very suspicious that is.
- If some pundit defends Mr. X, publicly charge that he is enabling racism and anti-Semitism.
- Denounce that pundit, and demand that his friends and associates denounce him, too. Try to get him fired.
- When anyone else sticks his neck out for Mr. X, rinse and repeat.
I remember when ex-Bush-speechwriter, now reinvented centrist NeverTrumper David Frum, employed this tactic against conservatives who were skeptical of the Iraq War, charging them with crimethink and calling them “unpatriotic.” More than political dialogue, it was a frontal assault on a number of writers’ livelihoods.
Steve Bannon, Breitbart, and the Alt-Right
Now Bannon is being targeted because the website which he inherited and helped to build into a behemoth, Breitbart, has been called a venue for white supremacists and anti-Semites. And so, because he ran the place, Bannon is also at best a cynical opportunist, and at worse a hater himself. The evidence for these charges is … somewhere between thin and none.
Of course, there are some people out there who really are racists, anti-Semites, or some other variety of anti-Christian extremist. Such twisted, hate-goaded people ought to be shunned.
No one has cited an article that appeared at Breitbart whose contents can be plausibly construed as racist or anti-Semitic. No one has found a writer who published at Breitbart whose other writings, elsewhere, are racist or anti-Semitic. No one has produced any evidence of personal or political racism or anti-Semitism that Bannon himself engaged in. A number of conservatives who happen to be Jewish, such as David Horowitz, have come forward to deny that Bannon has ever shown any sign of prejudice. No one has offered any tangible evidence of racism, either.
So what does the charge come down to? Two things:
1) That Bannon once said that Breitbart was a platform for the “Alt-Right.” and
2) That some of the attention-grabbing headlines which Bannon approved could be considered “dog-whistles” intended to get racists and anti-Semites to read them and forward them around, increasing traffic on the site.
Let’s Look at the Evidence
The best analysis of these headlines was done by London-based writer Melanie Phillips, a brave and embattled defender of Israel and the rights of Jews in an increasingly hostile, sharia-friendly country. As she wrote on Facebook: “False allegations are made against Donald Trump and his new head of strategy Stephen Bannon, smearing them as antisemites, fascists and racists. Whether through laziness or ideological malice, these smears are recycled uncritically throughout both mainstream and social media.” Phillips addresses the controversial headlines as follows:
Exhibit A: an article entitled “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.”
That headline is said to be antisemitic. The author of the article, David Horowitz, has written however:
“In fact, neither Breitbart nor Bannon is responsible for that statement. A Jew is. I wrote the article, which was neither requested nor commissioned by Breitbart. And I wrote the headline: “Bill Kristol, Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew.
“I wrote the article when Kristol set out to lead the Never Trump movement, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination. I would write it again in a heartbeat. I would write it the same way and with the same headline. Bill Kristol and his friends betrayed the Republican Party, betrayed the American people, and betrayed the Jews when he set out to undermine Trump and elect the criminal Hillary Clinton. Obama and Hillary are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the organization that launched the Arab drive to destroy Israel and push its Jews into the sea (that was their slogan).”
Exhibit B: an article which said of journalist Anne Applebaum [a Yale classmate of mine, and a fine Cold War scholar—J.Z.] that “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.” That phrase is said to be antisemitic.
The article attacked Applebaum for what it claimed was her “disinformation offensive against the anti-globalist right.” Central to its argument was a description of Applebaum’s circumstances and political world-view as the wife of the former Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski. It said: “Sikorski desperately wanted to replace Baroness Catherine Ashton as EU foreign affairs spokesman. This bid died with the exposure of the Civic Platform corruption. This turn of events ended Applebaum’s dream of being Poland’s first Jewish-American first lady. And hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned”.
There was nothing gratuitous or innately offensive about this Jewish reference any more than the references to her being Polish or American. It was simply another biographical detail in a highly personal piece. The claim that this was “antisemitic” is absurd.
• The charge of racism.
After the murder in 2015 of nine black worshippers in a Charleston church by a man who posed with a Confederate flag, an article attacking the left for cynically exploiting this tragedy to attack conservatism, tradition and the south.
The author said the left had rewritten history. “The epitome of everything they detest and fear is the Confederate Flag, so that is now the target of a hate campaign so fanatical and irrational as to seem barely sane.”
The insanity has gone one stage further; the left has extended this hate campaign to the website’s chief executive, smearing him as a racist for running this article merely criticising the left for its hatred and lies.
• The charge of Islamophobia
Breitbart has run numerous pieces exposing Islamist aggression and sexual violence. For this it has been falsely accused of anti-Muslim prejudice by those who wish to censor facts which it is overwhelmingly in the public interest to report.
• The charge that it has promoted the “alt-right.”
This term is being used as a smear in itself. It makes no distinction between the legitimate populist movement for western cultural identity to which millions who voted for both Trump and Brexit subscribe, and neo-Nazis and white supremacists who have leeched onto that populist movement — whether to legitimise themselves or to make trouble for the populists through “guilt by association” isn’t clear.
An article about the “alt-right” on Breitbart itself noted that those who use these Nazi types to tarnish the alt-right movement should, to be consistent, use Islamist killers to tarnish all Muslims or Black Lives Matter to tarnish all black people. Of course they would think that preposterous, but they use this tactic against their political enemies. The authors went on:
“The politics of identity, when it comes from women, LGBT people, blacks and other non-white, non-straight, non-male demographics is seen as acceptable — even when it descends into outright hatred. Any discussion of white identity, or white interests, is seen as a heretical offense. … Even for us — a gay man of Jewish descent and a mixed-ethnic half-Pakistani — the dangers of writing on this topic loom large. Though we do not identify with the alt-right, even writing an article about them is akin to prancing through a minefield.”
Racism and Globalism: Equal and Opposite Heresies
Of course, there are some people out there who really are racists, anti-Semites, or some other variety of anti-Christian extremist. Some white nationalists today have gone as far as calling to keep abortion legal to lower the non-white birth rate — you know, as eugenicist Margaret Sanger tried to do when she founded Planned Parenthood. Such twisted, hate-goaded people ought to be shunned. One of the pieces which I published denouncing white nationalism got me trolled for a year by online neo-Nazis, who [warning: profanity] wished for me that “the kike boot grind the faces of your progeny into the dirt.” Well, okay then. Hard to argue with that.
Whenever they could get a foothold, such nasty cranks infested the venues that GOP globalists hadn’t gotten around to purging, back in the heady days when David Frum was excommunicating people and Karl Rove was using RNC money to sink any GOP primary contender who didn’t favor virtually open borders. But once you’ve allowed genuine haters to become a significant minority in a movement, they tend to suck up all the oxygen, and smear all the innocent people around them with their own moral plutonium. The “Alt-Right” movement was once a capacious grab-bag of monarchists, medievalists, anti-globalist Christians and … an unsavory band of white nationalists and Jew-baiting cranks. Guess which faction stole the headlines and now owns the “Alt-Right” title? Hint: It wasn’t the monarchists.
So by all means, shun the racialists, with the same vigor and for the same reasons that you shun the globalists: Because neither of them is really engaged in seeking the common good. The racialists discard the Golden Egg of liberty and equality that makes Western culture Christian, and the globalists lazily starve the Goose that laid it: the concrete, fragile, social order and civic institutions without which such principles are stillborn, or curl up and die. You know, all the things that mark off a prosperous society such as Switzerland from a death trap like Afghanistan.
Those were the things that Donald Trump spoke up for, when few else would. Steve Bannon provided a space where such questions can freely be talked about. I hope that he goes on to a happy White House career — and that he remembers the other half of Donald Trump’s base, faithful Christians who demand our religious liberty and protection for unborn Americans. It is our witness to every person’s absolute equality in Christ that will pull America back from the brink.
Read excerpts from Steve Bannon’s 2014 speech at the Vatican here.