There are plenty of unexpected elements to the presidency of Donald Trump, but perhaps one of the more worrisome of those elements is the former Breitbart Editor-in-Chief Stephen Bannon.
When Bannon was hired on as the head of Trump’s presidential campaign, a door opened up that led to his appointment to the position of adviser to the president in the form of chief strategist. The revitalizer of the “platform for the alt-right” essentially became one of the most powerful men in the nation with the flick of a pen.
Bannon is also a very dangerous man—he is a citizen whose flames of xenophobia and nationalism have been given fuel with his nomination. He certainly does not want to see those flames extinguished.
Bannon’s previous publication, Breitbart News, prides itself on being an alternative voice in a media landscape its readers view as too liberal. Readers also regard mainstream media as a stumbling block in national progress.
However, the readers have a regressive view of progress, one that relies on dated notions about equality, race and women that would fit better in the 1960s than it would today. The ultra-conservative news organization positions itself as a voice for those ignored by ignoring all other voices, especially if those voices are not male, straight and white.
The organization is not above clickbait and regressive material is constantly being promoted on its site. Claims have ranged from former President Barack Obama being a Muslim born in Kenya, a theory Trump happily gave credence to in his reality star days, to indirectly leaking sexually explicit photos of Anthony Weiner in the wake of one of his sexting scandals. The more shocking, ethically gray the material, the better. While Breitbart has always attempted to defend its material, it always fell back into the pit of radically conservative journalism without fail.
Now, Breitbart’s former executive chair has the ear of an easily angered, incompetent man, who just so happens to be the new leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. Trump’s own ideological alignment with Bannon only serves to amplify a terrifying future for the United States.
Bannon is not a man above the failures of his peers or former employees. Breitbart, after all, is a brand he helped build. This is not an example of a man moving onto better, brighter things. If anything, he is an example of a malevolent force spreading through the government.
Trump is not a man capable of significant decisions, let alone rational-decision making. That is what Bannon is for—a man who, despite his disgusting encouragement of bigoted voices in the media, is an intelligent, charismatic personality in Trump’s inner circle. It would not be too much of a stretch to imagine Trump more as a puppet for the ideas of Bannon, whose own motivations he has kept as hazy as possible.
What perhaps is most worrisome is the way Bannon changed the landscape for the outdated views of the alt-right. Even the term “alt-right” is an attempt at normalizing and including outright dangerous figures, such as neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. It is through such normalization that societies become regressive and irrationally defensive. To the fascist elements of the alt-right whose voices get louder and louder every day, there is an “us” and a “them.” The only question that remains is who is on which side and, more importantly, who gets to choose the requirements.
Right now, that man is Bannon. He may not be giving many interviews or comprehensive details about his role as the adviser to Trump, but the slow and steady rise of the voices Breitbart gave megaphones to is an indicator. It indicates a world where hurting people for the purpose of an imaginary common good is just another day for the United States, a world where people of color, non-heterosexual people and women need to fear for their well-being and safety.
The question left is what can be done. The first step, always, is to reinforce the idea that the country Bannon envisions is not one that can be created. In a nation where everyone is welcome, no matter his or her economic background, race or religion, there must be an affirmation that everyone is safe. Everyone must be reminded that he or she will be safe in a world of discrimination and fear. Everyone must be reminded that he or she will be safe from the likes of Bannon.
Reuven Glezer is a sophomore studying Literary Form and Writing. He is a frequent contributor to The Ticker and an editor for Refract Magazine.