We all know too well the awful decisions Trump has made in the past 5 weeks. From pulling back protections for trans students to unqualified and/or despicable choices for cabinet (Sessions, DeVos, Price, and Puzder anyone?). Never mind the senseless (and needless) travel ban.
And who is behind these efforts? Trump doesn’t give a crap beyond his own image. Bannon does.
There’s a regular cottage industry trying to understand who Bannon is and what he could possibly want. We know he was in the military for a stint, went to Harvard Business School, owns some of Seinfeld (I wonder how Jerry feels about that…), and has been a movie producer. Of course, he was also the CEO of Breitbart.
Author Neil Howe believes Bannon developed his views from his book. The (very) basic gist is that there are cycles to history, specifically US history, and Neil and his co-author predicted some historical trends that, generally interpreted, have occurred. We are currently in the last cycle (or turning), one that is characterized as a crisis. This last turning, he says, would re-define our country. I’m not going to hash out the legitimacy of these claims. However, it’s important to note that Howe and his co-author were both amateur historians. I presume their claims are rational and reasoned, though likely simplistic and lacking in consideration of a broader geopolitical realm. I also would question how mass media and the Internet could redefine historical trends.
Reporters at the Washington Post scanned through Bannon’s interviews with Trump, highlighting how uses specific questions and flattery to fall into Bannon’s world view (i.e., the alt right). Trump is not a thinker but a narcissistic sponge.
Bannon is intentionally opaque. He shies away from the media, notably interviews. The best piece I’ve read on him appeared in Quartz. It’s worth a read if you have 15 minutes. It describes the three pillars of Bannonism — Judeo-Christan values, nationalism, and capitalism. No shocks there.
His goals? I have the toughest part with this one though the Quartz article does a good job of outlining goals. Bannon is nationalistic. Racist? Definitely. (Muslim ban, anyone?) White nationalist? Whether or not he is, white nationalists probably believe he is (or at least are emboldened by Trump’s election) and some who have such beliefs have a direct line to the White House. We have seen these policies and we will continue to see them. The alt-right is empowered (as evidenced in the photo taken by a friend today). They are actively recruiting, desecrating Jewish cemeteries, and – perhaps – murder.
It is also clear that Trump/Bannon want to dramatically build up the military. Probably because Bannon believes that there will be a crisis, or war, likely precipitated by terrorists in the Middle East. He probably wants to intentionally lead us into one.
Bannon also is frequently portrayed as being an outsider. He is now in an incredible position of power, but the media frequently questions approaches, policies, and strategy. He doesn’t like that. So, he tells Trump to attack the media. To refuse to attend the White House Correspondents’ Dinner. Calls the media the enemy. The truth is of course not good for Bannon. What he does is despicable and not based in evidence. So, attacking the media is a strategy. But, perhaps it is also because he was never accepted. From Harvard to Wall Street to Hollywood. So now, screw them.
He also wants to undermine federal institutions, right now via a federal freeze, probably because he is a crazy alt-right conservative who wants to devolve power to companies and churches. And get rid of Elmo and the arts. Because capitalism.
Now what? I have outlined a few observations and half-baked ideas of what is to come. It’s grim. Which is why when I can’t sleep, I think of Bannon. I also need to keep thinking of the good that that are the protests, phone calls, and new people stepping up and running for office. We have all been active. And we are tired. I was reminded by a great blog post by Jennifer Hoffman (who also gives wonderful observations and weekly actions), who tells us that it’s ok that we’re tired. She gives a terrific list of activities we can do to alleviate the fatigue and stress. Sometimes, I just have to remind myself to take a deep breath. That’s also why I write this blog. It’s a release and helps me think through these times.
How does that translate into action? We are only a month into the world that Bannon is trying to create. We need to find healthy outlets. Look at Jennifer’s list. Find some good for you. But also realize that Bannon’s world view will not change. His powers will be more difficult to resist as he did not have to be confirmed. That’s why we need to strengthen the institutions he is trying to undermine. Here are some ideas:
- Take a friend who works for the federal government out to lunch — because their office morale probably sucks.
- Make a NEW donation to an organization that strengthens that which Bannon is trying to knock down. ACLU is a favorite, but consider the National Immigration Law Center, which protects and defends rights of immigrants.
- Review the terrific organizations Hanaa mentioned in her post last week about the trans bathroom issue.
- Support (through a donation or volunteering) your local PBS, NPR, or local artistic efforts.
- Lastly, if you haven’t yet gotten a subscription to a newspaper, do it. I’ve subscribed to the New York Times and our local (crappy and conservative) paper since November 9th. Information is the enemy of Bannon.
In sum, you need to be good to yourself this week. You also need to find a way to counter Bannon on a consistent basis. We can take a break, but we also need to keep up our #fiveminutes.