Hillary called them “deplorables,” Bannon calls them “baggage.” What will Trumpists do with “aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial?”
In a speech to a Catholic group published by Buzzfeed, President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon presented his view of the world and political goals related to that view. The speech and subsequent Q&A are revealing and should be read carefully. While there is much to learn from the transcript, I focus now on Bannon’s statements about racism.
In short, Bannon knows racists are a part of his coalition but he takes a passive approach to it since he assumes they will eventually be “washed out.” Here are some quotes from the transcript:
Bannon: Outside of Fox News and the Drudge Report, we’re the third-largest conservative news site and, quite frankly, we have a bigger global reach than even Fox. And that’s why we’re expanding so much internationally.
Look, we believe — strongly — that there is a global tea party movement. We’ve seen that. We were the first group to get in and start reporting on things like UKIP and Front National and other center right. With all the baggage that those groups bring — and trust me, a lot of them bring a lot of baggage, both ethnically and racially — but we think that will all be worked through with time.
The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos. A group of kind of — we’re not conspiracy-theory guys, but there’s certainly — and I could see this when I worked at Goldman Sachs — there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run. (emphasis added)
Trump’s movement has attracted much of that “baggage.” Bannon’s appointment as chief Trump strategist has been lauded by the KKK, neo-Nazi’s and other racist organizations and leaders (e.g., Richard Spencer, David Duke). Although Bannon calls the racists “baggage,” it doesn’t appear that he does anything obvious to discourage it.
Bannon: I don’t believe I said UKIP in that. I was really talking about the parties on the continent, Front National and other European parties.
I’m not an expert in this, but it seems that they have had some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial. By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we’ve been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it’s not. But there’s always elements who turn up at these things, whether it’s militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more.
I believe that you’ll see this in the center-right populist movement in continental Europe. I’ve spent quite a bit of time with UKIP, and I can say to you that I’ve never seen anything at all with UKIP that even comes close to that. I think they’ve done a very good job of policing themselves to really make sure that people including the British National Front and others were not included in the party, and I think you’ve seen that also with tea party groups, where some people would show up and were kind of marginal members of the tea party, and the tea party did a great job of policing themselves early on. And I think that’s why when you hear charges of racism against the tea party, it doesn’t stick with the American people, because they really understand.
Bannon is aware of the racists in his movement but, if anything, he has encouraged them through adopting the platform of the alt-right at Brietbart. He says they will be washed out, but how will that happen if someone is not doing laundry?
I think I understand what he is claiming — the movement is unified at the core by a populist impulse to return power to the people and not by racism per se. The problem for Bannon and the nation is that unless Bannon and Trump actively and publicly move to oppose white nationalism, his movement will not catch on with a lasting majority of Americans. In fact, their weak disavowals make it appear that Bannon and Trump support the “baggage.”
Questioner: Very simply put, there’s a growing movement among young people here in Europe, in France and in Austria and elsewhere, and they’re arguing very effectively against Wall Street institutions and they’re also appealing to people on an ethnic and racial level. And I was just wondering what you would recommend to counteract these movements, which are growing.
Bannon: One of the reasons that you can understand how they’re being fueled is that they’re not seeing the benefits of capitalism. I mean particularly — and I think it’s particularly more advanced in Europe than it is in the United States, but in the United States it’s getting pretty advanced — is that when you have this kind of crony capitalism, you have a different set of rules for the people that make the rules. It’s this partnership of big government and corporatists. I think it starts to fuel, particularly as you start to see negative job creation. If you go back, in fact, and look at the United States’ GDP, you look at a bunch of Europe. If you take out government spending, you know, we’ve had negative growth on a real basis for over a decade.
And that all trickles down to the man in the street. If you look at people’s lives, and particularly millennials, look at people under 30 — people under 30, there’s 50% really under employment of people in the United States, which is probably the most advanced economy in the West, and it gets worse in Europe.
I think in Spain it’s something like 50 or 60% of the youth under 30 are underemployed. And that means the decade of their twenties, which is where you have to learn a skill, where you have to learn a craft, where you really start to get comfortable in your profession, you’re taking that away from the entire generation. That’s only going to fuel tribalism, that’s only going to fuel [unintelligible]… That’s why to me, it’s incumbent upon freedom-loving people to make sure that we sort out these governments and make sure that we sort out particularly this crony capitalism so that the benefits become more of this entrepreneurial spirit and that can flow back to working-class and middle-class people. Because if not, we’re going to pay a huge price for this. You can already start to see it.
The questioner asked Bannon how to counteract the movements which appeal to racial identity as a reaction to large corporate interests. Bannon’s answer did not address the racism, but said crony capitalism was to blame for what he called tribalism. On the economics front, his argument is appealing. The middle class is working harder for less but seeing the wealthy class have more. Capitalism is working for the wealthy but not the little guy. Bernie Sanders touched this sentiment but offered a different ideology as a solution.
Bannon, however, tolerates this racist tribalism in the service of his broader goals. Although I don’t think it would have mattered, I wish this transcript would have surfaced before the election. This is a pretty straightforward statement that Bannon’s movement uses racists to further his broader ends all the while asserting the “baggage” (dare I say “deplorables?”) will somehow be “washed out.” Evangelicals who supported this need to recognize the deal with the devil they have made. Bannon dresses his tolerance of racism in religious language of Christianity. I expect that religious people will find their values severely tested over the next four years. What will evangelicals, particularly white ones, do when a movement that tolerates racism is pitted regularly against achieving religious liberty goals? So far, many evangelical leaders have winked at the racist concerns in the service of other goals.
I don’t have expert knowledge of these movements but what I do know tells me that history is not on Bannon’s side. If anything, smaller acts of aggression and dehumanization toward a identifiable group have degenerated into acts which are much worse. Preventing this degeneration will continue to animate those opposed to Trumpism and the unholy alliance it tolerates with racists.
Such a standoff could be prevented. If Trumpists and his evangelical sympathizers draw a sharp line against the “aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial” (aka the “baggage”), the movement would less corrosive and have more chance to make some positive changes. Otherwise, I pray it fails in time for the mid-term elections.