Already White House Chief Strategist and Senior Counsellor to President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon’s recent appointment to the United States National Security Council cements his position as one of the most powerful people on Earth. This morning while surfing the web, I came across a speech of Bannon’s from 2014, readable here, in which he elucidates his guiding principles and general world-view.
As with many dangerous doctrines, Bannon’s ideology contains certain small kernels of truth in amongst the realms of garbage and obfuscation, which help explain his success in rising from his previous position as head of the formerly obscure ‘alt-right’ (i.e. white supremacist) news site Breitbart. It is surely important that those in opposition to the Trump administration are cognisant of these if Bannon’s toxic ideology is to be defeated in future political contexts, including electorally. More importantly, however, there are multiple ways in which Bannon’s ideology is not just flawed, but fundamentally at odds with reality and human nature. While these are certainly the most dangerous elements of Bannon’s world-view, they are also those with regards to which it ought to be easiest to organise effective mass political resistance.
The key aforementioned kernel of truth is Bannon’s recognition that modern capitalism is in a state of crisis, with living standards stagnating for most citizens in the developed economies of the West even as global economic elites continue to hoover up ever greater amounts of material wealth. Bannon decries both “crony capitalism” and the tendency of the “Ayn Rand… School of libertarian capitalism” to “make people commodities”. To me, herein lies the key in ensuring that future challengers to Trump-esque candidates experience greater success. In the two events the ‘alt-right’ sees as its greatest triumphs – the election of Trump and the Brexit vote – the right-wing insurgents were essentially granted a free run at attempting to capitalise on popular anger at economic elites by their main respective opponents. If left or liberal movements get their act together with regards to offering practical, radical solutions to the most galling failings of modern capitalism, including but not nearly limited to runaway inequality, a key advantage enjoyed by Bannon and his ilk in electoral contests thus far can be neutralised. This is not least because Bannon’s own preferred solution to the crisis of capitalism, a return to something he calls the “enlightened capitalism of the Judeo-Christian West”, is patently little more than romanticised, pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo.
It’s when we look at the non-economic aspects of Bannon’s viewpoint, however, that things get really weird. Bannon interprets the current moment not only as a crisis of capitalism, but as a “crisis… of our Church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West.” Consequently, Bannon believes we are at “the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” of global proportions. Bannon sees the enemy in this war as not only “jihadist Islamic fascism” in the form of ISIS, but also the “secularism”, particularly of the millennial generation, which has “sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals”. Once we realise that Bannon views the world through a millenarian lens assuming that a global holy war is poised to – and indeed ought to – take place, the Trump administration’s Bannon-directed recent actions against Muslims, bigoted and completely self-defeating, begin to make some more sense. Indeed, we can expect the Trump administration to continue to relentlessly target and demonise Muslims and others by any arbitrary and cruel means possible, for Muslims living in harmony with their fellow citizens in Western societies offer the ultimate proof that Bannon’s fantasies of an impending, brutal clash of civilisations are just that – fantasy.
The stakes couldn’t be much higher in this regard. As is clear to anybody with half a brain, the pervasiveness of weapons of mass destruction means that the next world war, ‘holy’ or otherwise, will be humanity’s last. Fortunately, and very encouragingly, Bannon’s initial action in this area – the Muslim ban – provoked massive popular resistance, not only in the form of direct action in various American airports but also in protests in countries around the world. Resistance to these actions – which unite the majority of citizens, radical or otherwise, in contempt – can form the basis of popular resistance to Bannon’s political project, whether it is being advanced by the Trump administration itself or being appeased by the craven apologists who make up the May government in the UK. When this is accompanied by the aforementioned offer of a true economic alternative, the politics of Bannon will be comprehensively defeated.
Bannon sees Brexit and Trump as manifestations of a “global tea party movement” which will ultimately transform the liberal democracies of the West into nationalistic, hyper-conservative, ethnically homogenous plutocracies. His bizarre and dangerous world-view, however, has little in common with the general beliefs of most decent people, and will be met with huge resistance every time he tries to make it a reality. Though Trump’s ascendancy has given him an immensely worrying level of influence and authority, we still possess the ability to ensure his ultimate aims remain a long way away from being realised.