By Matthew Ormseth
President Donald Trump’s first weeks in office have been a disaster, but he’s the disaster we deserve. We elected him. Who we didn’t elect is Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and emerging right-hand man, who appears to be steering the president in a hard-line, exclusionist direction.
For a nonelected and nonmilitary official, Bannon wields an extraordinary amount of power in the Trump White House. Last week, President Trump signed a memorandum that gave Bannon a seat at the National Security Council while effectively removing the director of national intelligence and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from the group. Bannon — a civilian — will sit alongside the secretaries of state and defense at the council and weigh in on the country’s most vital questions of security and defense.╩
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Bannon’s seven-year stint in the U.S. Navy qualifies his promotion to the NSC. “Well, he is a former navy officer,” Spicer said. “He’s got a tremendous understanding of the world and the geopolitical landscape that we have now.”
Such a move is unprecedented; David Axelrod, Obama’s political adviser, was allowed to sit in on NSC meetings on occasion, but he had no say in the council’s decisions.
Furthermore, the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — the highest-ranking member of the U.S. military — will attend NSC meetings only “where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed,” the memorandum reads. The current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is Gen. Joseph Dunford, a four-star general with 39 years of service in the U.S. military.
Removing the nation’s foremost experts on national security from the National Security Council could hardly be considered a smart move, but replacing them with the former CEO of Breitbart, an alt-right platform for conspiracy theories and unabashed Islamophobia, is dangerous. And why a civilian with seven years of military experience is qualified to attend NSC meetings but not a four-star general is anyone’s guess.
A closer examination of Bannon’s life before Trump reveals a man consumed with sweeping narratives of good vs. evil: capitalism vs. communism, the common man vs. the corrupt elite, an epic clash of civilizations between Judeo-Christian West and Islam-dominated East. He dabbled in filmmaking, drawing inspiration from Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, his former writing partner Julia Jones said, for his grandiose Reagan biopic “In the Face of Evil.” Tim Watkins, his co-director for the biopic, said the film was dominated by Bannon’s conviction that “life is a battle of good and evil, and history repeats itself.”
Bannon peddles an apocalyptic narrative of America in atrophy, corrupted from within by effete “liberal snowflakes,” venal career politicians (of whom Hillary Clinton was the embodiment) and ethnic minorities demanding — through affirmative action, safe spaces and appeals for inclusivity — more than their fair share of the American pie.
Bannon has quite literally authored Trump’s worldview — he wrote the president’s inaugural address, one which painted an America rotten at the core, with “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities” and “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation.”
He proffered Trump as America’s only hope against “the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”
For Bannon, immigration from the Middle East is not a threat to American safety but to American culture. “You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China,” he said in a Breitbart broadcast. “They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian West is on the retreat.”
In another Breitbart interview, Bannon said, “To be brutally frank … Christianity is dying in Europe, and Islam is on the rise.”
In light of his chief strategist’s conviction that America is fighting a culture war, President Trump’s promise that the ban on Muslim immigration is only temporary rings hollow. The incorporation of non-Americans into the American fabric is not merely a security threat for Bannon — it is an existential threat, one that jeopardizes the national character. A chief strategist with ideas so inimical to the values America was founded upon — inclusivity, diversity, the welcoming of people from all countries and all walks of life — should be a concern to all Americans. His shadowy, looming presence in the Trump White House should be brought to light, lest his worldview lead America down the dark path of paranoid, exclusionist politics.
Matthew Ormseth is currently a student at Cornell University majoring in English. He seeks to give an honest portrayal of life as both a university student and member of the Millennial generation.