The other day I posited the possibility that “Stephen K. Bannon may be more than just ‘Trump’s Brain.’ It is becoming increasingly evident that he is the ‘power behind the throne’ so to speak, a ‘shadow president’ who is pulling the strings of his puppet. And that should deeply concern all Americans.” ‘Trump’s brain’, Stephen K. Bannon, elevated to National Security Council.
Shortly thereafter the New York Times in an editorial asked, President Bannon?
Plenty of presidents have had prominent political advisers, and some of those advisers have been suspected of quietly setting policy behind the scenes (recall Karl Rove or, if your memory stretches back far enough, Dick Morris). But we’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.
Mr. Bannon supercharged Breitbart News as a platform for inciting the alt-right, did the same with the Trump campaign and is now repeating the act with the Trump White House itself. That was perhaps to be expected, though the speed with which President Trump has moved to alienate Mexicans (by declaring they would pay for a border wall), Jews (by disregarding their unique experience of the Holocaust) and Muslims (the ban) has been impressive. Mr. Trump never showed much inclination to reach beyond the minority base of voters that delivered his Electoral College victory, and Mr. Bannon, whose fingerprints were on each of those initiatives, is helping make sure he doesn’t.
But a new executive order, politicizing the process for national security decisions, suggests Mr. Bannon is positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president.
As his first week in office amply demonstrated, Mr. Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance and little apparent grasp of what it takes to lead a great diverse nation. He needs to hear from experienced officials, like General Dunford. But Mr. Bannon has positioned himself, along with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the president’s most trusted aide, shutting out other voices that might offer alternative views. He is now reportedly eclipsing the national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
While Mr. Trump long ago embraced Mr. Bannon’s politics, he would be wise to reconsider allowing him to run his White House, particularly after the fiasco over the weekend of the risible Muslim ban. Mr. Bannon helped push that order through without consulting Mr. Trump’s own experts at the Department of Homeland Security or even seeking deliberation by the N.S.C. itself. The administration’s subsequent modifications, the courtroom reversals and the international furor have made the president look not bold and decisive but simply incompetent.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump was immensely gratified by the applause at his rallies for Mr. Bannon’s jingoism. Yet now casually weaponized in executive orders, those same ideas are alienating American allies and damaging the presidency.
Presidents are entitled to pick their advisers. But Mr. Trump’s first spasms of policy making have supplied ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically and weigh second- and third-order consequences beyond the immediate domestic political effects. Imagine tomorrow if Mr. Trump is faced with a crisis involving China in the South China Sea or Russia in Ukraine.
Funny the Times should mention Ukraine because the American television news media at least has largely ignored renewed warfare in Ukraine since Putin pal Donald Trump’s inauguration. Trump is sworn in, rockets fall on Ukraine: Russian-backed forces in Ukraine launched their biggest offensive in months the day after Vladimir Putin spoke by phone with President Trump. Fighting flares in eastern Ukraine:
Fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces is escalating, officials have warned.
A higher number of ceasefire violations were reported between Sunday and Monday evenings, compared with the previous 24 hours, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said Monday.
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The US State Department on Tuesday put out a statement saying: “The United States is deeply concerned with the recent spike in violence in eastern Ukraine around (the cities of) Avdiivka-Yasynuvata.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has called on Russia to use its “considerable influence” to end fighting in eastern Ukraine after a renewed surge in violence there. NATO calls on Russia to stop violence in Ukraine: “We call for an immediate return to the ceasefire,” Stoltenberg said in Brussels. “We call on Russia to use its considerable influence over the separatists to bring the violence to an end.”
Curiously, we haven’t heard a word from our Dear Leader Donald Trump or the de facto president Stephen K. Bannon. Joshua Keating at Slate asks, So What Does The Trump Administration Think About The Renewed Fighting in Ukraine?: The White House has declined to comment on the situation.
Maybe the White House press corps should stop cowering from “Baghdad Sean” Spicer’s threats and start asking hard questions about Ukraine and whether the Trump administration is just going to stand by and do nothing.
But I digress.
The Washington Post took a closer look at our de facto president Stephen K. Bannon. It turns out that he sees himself as the “power behind the throne.” ‘Why even let ’em in?’ Understanding Bannon’s worldview and the policies that follow.
In the years before Bannon grabbed the world’s attention as President Trump’s chief White House strategist, he was developing and articulating a fiery populist vision for remaking the United States and its role in the world.
Bannon’s past statements, aired primarily on Breitbart and other conservative platforms, serve as a road map for the controversial agenda that has roiled Washington and shaken the global order during Trump’s first two weeks in office.
Now, at the center of power in the White House, Bannon is moving quickly to turn his ideas into policy, helping direct the biggest decisions of Trump’s administration. The withdrawal from a major trade pact. A ban on all visitors from seven majority-Muslim countries. And — in an echo of that conversation with Zinke, who is now Trump’s nominee for interior secretary — there was a temporary ban on all new refugees.
The result has been intense fury from Democrats, discomfort among many Republicans, and a growing sense of unease in the world that Trump intends to undermine an America-centered world that has lasted 70 years. This sense of turmoil, welcomed by many Trump supporters as proof that the new president is following through on his vow to jolt Washington, reflects the sort of transformation that Bannon has long called for.
That worldview, which Bannon laid out in interviews and speeches over the past several years, hinges largely on Bannon’s belief in American “sovereignty.” Bannon said that countries should protect their citizens and their essence by reducing immigration, legal and illegal, and pulling back from multinational agreements.
At the same time, Bannon was concerned that the United States and the “Judeo-Christian West” were in a war against an expansionist Islamic ideology — but that they were losing the war by not recognizing what it was. Bannon said this fight was so important, it was worth overlooking differences and rivalries with countries like Russia.
It is not yet clear how far Bannon will be able to go to enact his agenda. His early policy moves have been marred by administrative chaos. But his worldview calls for bigger changes than those already made.
In the past, Bannon had wondered aloud whether the country was ready to follow his lead. Now, he will find out.
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Bannon, 62, is a former Navy officer and Goldman Sachs banker who made a fortune after he acquired a share of the royalties from a fledgling TV show called “Seinfeld.” In the past 15 years, he shifted into entertainment and conservative media, making films about Ronald Reagan and Sarah Palin and then taking a lead role at Breitbart News.
At Breitbart, Bannon cemented his role as a voice for the alt-right, the far-right movement that has attracted white supremacists and has found a home on the website.
Bannon also forged a rapport with Trump, interviewing the businessman-candidate on his show and then, in August 2016, joining the campaign as chief executive.
Now, Bannon has become one of the most powerful men in America. And he’s not afraid to say so.
In interviews with reporters since Trump’s election, Bannon has eschewed the traditional it’s-all-about-the-boss humility of presidential staffers.
“Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power,” he told the Hollywood Reporter in November, embracing the comparisons of him to those figures.
In the same interview, Bannon compared himself to a powerful aide to England’s Henry VIII — an aide who helped engineer a world-shaking move of his era, the split of the Church of England from the Catholic Church.
“I am Thomas Cromwell in the court of the Tudors,” Bannon told the Hollywood Reporter.
To explore Bannon’s worldview, The Washington Post reviewed hours of radio interviews that Bannon conducted while hosting a Breitbart radio talk show, as well as speeches and interviews he has given since 2014.
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment made on Tuesday afternoon.
In his public statements, Bannon espoused a basic idea that Trump would later seize as the centerpiece of his campaign.
While others saw the world rebounding from the financial crisis of 2008, Bannon just saw it becoming more divided by class.
The elites that had caused the crisis — or, at least, failed to stop it — were now rising higher. Everyone else was being left behind. [Remember, this guy was a Goldman Sachs bankster, the elite of the elitists.]
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Bannon blamed both major political parties for this system and set out to force his ideas on an unwilling Republican leadership.
What he wanted, he said again and again, was “sovereignty.” Both in the United States and in its traditional allies in Western Europe.
On one of the first Breitbart Radio shows, in early November 2015, Bannon praised the growing movement in Britain to exit the European Union. He said that the British had joined the E.U. merely as a trading federation but that it had grown into a force that had stripped Britons of sovereignty “in every aspect important to their own life.”
Bannon has been supportive of similar movements in other European countries to pull out of the union. Trump has echoed those sentiments in his first few days as president. It is a remarkable shift in U.S. policy: After decades of building multinational alliances as a guarantee of peace, now the White House has indicated it may undermine them.
Bannon, in his 2014 speech at the Vatican, cast this as a return to a better past.
“I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors,” Bannon said. “And that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.”
In the case of the United States, Bannon was skeptical of multinational trade pacts, saying that they ceded control. In a radio interview in November 2015, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) agreed with Bannon.
“We shouldn’t be tying ourselves down like Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians with so many strings a guy can’t move,” said Sessions, who is now Trump’s nominee to become attorney general. He was referring to a scene from the novel “Gulliver’s Travels” in which the hero is tied down by a race of tiny men. “That is where we are heading, and it’s not necessary.”
One solution put forward by Bannon: the United States should pursue bilateral trade agreements — one country at a time — rather than multi-country agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership supported by Obama.
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On a March 2016 episode, Bannon said that restoring sovereignty meant reducing immigration. In his radio shows, he criticized the federal H-1B visa programs that permit U.S. companies to fill technical positions with workers from overseas.
The “progressive plutocrats in Silicon Valley,” Bannon said, want unlimited ability to go around the world and bring people back to the United States. “Engineering schools,” Bannon said, “are all full of people from South Asia, and East Asia. . . . They’ve come in here to take these jobs.” Meanwhile, Bannon said, American students “can’t get engineering degrees; they can’t get into these graduate schools because they are all foreign students. When they come out, they can’t get a job.”
“Don’t we have a problem with legal immigration?” asked Bannon repeatedly.
“Twenty percent of this country is immigrants. Is that not the beating heart of this problem?” he said, meaning the problem of native-born Americans being unable to find jobs and rising wages.
Note: The Washington Post reports, Steve Bannon once complained that 20 percent of the country is made up of immigrants. It isn’t.
So far, Trump has made no changes to the high-skilled visa program. This week, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that the Trump administration may reexamine the program.
Even as Bannon was calling for a general retreat from multinational alliances, however, he was warning of the need for a new alliance — involving only a subset of the world’s countries.
The “Judeo-Christian West” was at war, he said, but didn’t seem to understand it yet.
“There is a major war brewing, a war that’s already global,” Bannon said at the Vatican in 2014, at a time when the Islamic State was gaining territory. “Every day that we refuse to look at this as what it is — and the scale of it, and really the viciousness of it — will be a day where you will rue that we didn’t act.”
Bannon has given few details about the mechanics of the war he thinks the West should fight. But he has been clear that it is urgent enough to take priority over other rivalries and worries.
In his talk at the Vatican, Bannon was asked about Russian President Vladimir Putin. Bannon’s answer was two-sided.
“I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand,” he said. But, Bannon said, there were bigger concerns than Russia — and there was something to admire in Putin’s call for more traditional values.
“However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you’re facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I’m not saying we can put [Russia] on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first,” Bannon said.
If Bannon succeeds, Bannon’s own comparison, to England’s Thomas Cromwell, might be apt — to a point.
“The analogy — if it’s going to work — is that Bannon has his own agenda, which he will try to use Trump for, and will try to exploit the power that Trump has given him, without his master always noticing,” said Diarmaid MacCulloch, a professor of history at England’s Oxford University.
But Cromwell was later executed, after Henry VIII turned against him. For a man like that, MacCulloch said, power is always tenuous: “It’s very much dependent on the favor of the king.”
You may want to read The Rise & Fall of Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by John Schofield, or watch this BBC video.