Despite initial acts that revealed an undisciplined president, the philosophy guiding the Trump election victory and Administration came into clearer focus. The philosophy was, however, not provided by the President but by Stephen K. Bannon, Chief Strategist and Senior Counselor to the President.
Stephen Kevin “Steve” Bannon (born 1953) grew up in a working-class Catholic family in Virginia. Bannon graduated from Virginia Tech in his early twenties and thereafter entered the Navy. His service occurred while Americans were held hostage by Iran, and when Reagan initiated a military build-up. Bannon left the Navy and worked as a successful investment banker at Goldman Sachs and his own company.
In the 1990s Bannon entered the world of media and edged towards political productions and activism. He successfully led the Right-wing media outlet Breitbart News to become a major influence in American culture. As the Virginian-Pilot newspaper stated, “The site has been blamed for fueling a racist, anti-Semitic, misogynist fringe of conservative voters calling themselves the ‘alt-right’ who have taken credit for helping send President-elect Donald J. Trump to the White House.” Breitbart News, Bannon explained, alerted the Judeo-Christian West that it was at war for its very existence. Bannon sees Trump as a vessel to implement his vision rather than as an ideological partner. Trump is a “blunt instrument for us,” Bannon told Vanity Fair’s Ken Stern in 2016. “I don’t know whether he really gets it or not.” Bannon does not seek power for the Republican Party (the US conservative party), but instead seeks to upend the establishment which he believes works against its own citizens.
Bannon’s worldview, voiced during a 2014 conference at the Vatican and elsewhere, echoes a thesis proposed by American political scientist Samuel P. Huntington (1927 – 2008). In both articles and book Huntington proposed that “The most important distinctions among peoples [after the end of the Cold War] are not ideological, political, or economic. They are cultural.” Bannon echoes that view, with the “Judeo-Christian West” in a battle with militant Islam and China. “You have an expansionist Islam and you have an expansionist China. Right? They are motivated. They’re arrogant. They’re on the march. And they think the Judeo-Christian west is on the retreat,” Bannon said during a February 2016 Breitbart News radio show.
Islam in particular poses, in Bannon’s view, the real threat to the Judeo-Christian West. “Supremacist” Islam in his view cannot be integrated into the West. It will be repelled or conquer. As Breitbart author James Pinkerton wrote in 2014, “In other words, if present trends continue, the green flag of Islam – bearing the Shahada, the declaration of faith, ‘There is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God’ – could be fluttering above Athens and Rotterdam in the lifespan of a youngster today. If so, then the glory of Europe as the hub of Greco-Roman and Christian civilization would be extinguished forever.” This viewpoint explains the immediate travel ban by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. No citizens from these nations have been involved in fatal U.S.-based terrorist attacks. They do provide a substantial number of our nation’s new Muslim refugees. And it is Islam itself, not terror, that Bannon see as the primary threat.
Aside from external threats, Bannon believes the West is internally weakened by Atheists, secularism, and crony capitalism. Bannon rejects Cosmopolitan views that cultures enrich each other, and instead views cosmopolitan ideas, and people to be “fifth columnists” for radical Islam. The Washington Post reported that in 2007 Bannon sketched a film treatment that warned against “front groups and disingenuous Muslim Americans who preach reconciliation and dialogue in the open but, behind the scenes, advocate hatred and contempt for the West.” Apart from Muslim groups the outline describes as “cultural jihadists,” the sketch also lists other “enablers,” including mainstream media outlets, “Universities and the Left,” the “American Jewish community,” civil rights groups, the (then-George W. Bush) White House, State Department FBI, and CIA.
What is the “Judeo-Christian West”?
“Judeo-Christian West” is a term Bannon uses frequently. Based on comments by various Conservative pundits, the concept seems to encompass several aspects: A Christian culture influenced by classical Greece and Rome with a strong foundation rooted in the Old Testament; God as the source of universal moral values; and equality before God and the law, but not necessarily material equality. Indeed, Socialism and Communism are anti-Christian since they enable individuals to “fail to honor their Divine privilege and duty to work creatively.” Bannon and others believe the Judeo-Christian West has been deliberately debased by the removal of God from schools, the acceptance and legitimation of immoral sexuality, moral relativism, and the demeaning of religion by the Leftist cultural elites living in Hollywood and other urban centers.
Bannon’s vision of a potential Judeo-Christian Utopia are suggested by his initial comments at the 2014 Vatican conference: “It’s ironic, I think, that we’re talking today at exactly, tomorrow, 100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history. Just to put it in perspective, with the assassination that took place 100 years ago tomorrow in Sarajevo, the world was at total peace. There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians.”
From this and other comments, Bannon seems to favor Nationalist-focused independent states managed by enlightened Christian leaders aided by the “church militant” defending traditional hierarchy and customs. Theologically, church militant refers to those Christians on Earth who war against evil and the enemies of Christ. The enemies of Christ, according to a traditionalist Catholic (and pro-Bannon) website named, aptly, “Church Militant,” include globalism, immigration, social-welfare programs and abortion, radical Islam, and “malevolent, cutthroat, cunning clerics” supporting Pope Francis I.
Bannon claims that “enlightened capitalism” rises from the West’s Judeo-Christian foundations and will provide wealth and freedom for all citizens. Bannon rejects state-sponsored capitalism found in China and Russia (the centers of two other cultures described by Huntington), and Ayn Rand capitalism. In the former, “crony capitalism” is conjoined with corrupt governments to only benefit insiders. In the latter case, Capitalism becomes divorced from morality and makes the individual another commodity.
“Enlightened capitalism” is not defined by Bannon, he could be imagining faith-centered small merchants unfettered by regulatory “burdens” dedicated to their community’s prosperity and larger religiously active capitalists striving to morally and materially uplift both employees and the culture. Bannon’s views somewhat echo ideas of Neo-Confederates, individuals who envision greater local autonomy or outright independence of America’s Southern states where a socially stratified, paternalistic society could be maintained under deeply conservative (if not outright racist) Christian governance.
Bannon, who helped create and guide the American “Tea Party” movement, sees it as a global phenomena. “If you look at the identity movements over there in Europe, I think a lot of [them] are really ‘Polish identity’ or ‘German identity,’ not racial identity. It’s more identity toward a nation-state or their people as a nation,” he told Mother Jones magazine in August 2016. And, indeed, the “Identitarians” share similar views, according to the extreme Right, pro-Trump American Free Press website: “. . ..” “The birthright of these young people has been plundered morally and financially by aging leftists and capitalist robber barons, who have sold entire continents into debt slavery to the banksters. Identitarians reject the pseudo-compassion of the cultural communists, who dump a huge pile of redistributed wealth onto foreigners, at the cost of their own fellow citizens.”
Bannon denies being either racist or anti-semitic and dismisses the threat of Anti-semitism and racism within his movement (and the other Nationalist movements, such as UKIP), by claiming extremists get “washed out” over time. History, however, suggests extremists tend to be singularly focused on their goals, are uncompromising, are willing to use more ruthless tactics, and tend to drive out more moderate voices from movements.
A Dangerous Threat to the World
Ideas promoted by Bannon pose a serious threat to modern society. They reject both secularism and cosmopolitanism, and instead see the world in a global war that will end in the West’s total victory or annihilation. Since the world is already perceived to be at war, Bannon will likely not refrain from promoting violence against peoples he sees as enemy armies. The last century witnessed mass slaughter by Nazism and Communism, two ideologies that also saw conflict as both ongoing and necessary. We cannot ignore or dismiss the danger Bannon and his like-minded counterparts pose to global peace.