Steve Bannon, the strategist and ideologue at the heart of Donald Trump’s administration, has an aggressively reactionary world view that might tell us about its future direction
STEVE BANNON has quickly emerged as the man at the heart of US President Donald Trump’s new administration.
The wealthy onetime Naval officer, banker and former Breitbart executive, became infamous by pioneering a ferocious style of campaigning hard-right media. Bannon claimed that his Breitbart website was “the platform for the alt-right”, an eclectic mix of far right thinkers and provocateurs.
Bannon was recruited in 2016 as Trump’s campaign chief executive, kept on in the new administration as chief strategist and now holds sweeping powers as a member of the principal committee of the national security council. He does so in a US civil service increasingly hollowed out by resignations and sackings, as Trump and his team break-down and reassemble the leadership structures of the world’s most powerful state.
Bannon is part of a small team of insiders behind the raft of executive orders rapidly published during the administration’s first days. These include the creation of a border wall with Mexico and the infamous ‘Muslim ban’, which excludes citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US.
What is Bannon’s world view? How similar or different is it from traditional conservative outlooks? And what do his ideas tell us about the future course of US politics?
CommonSpace looks at the ideology at the heart of the Whitehouse.
The coming fight: Judeo-Christian vs Muslim and left vs right
Bannon is obsessed with a perceived threat from the Muslim world. He believes the west is “at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict” which will require the spirit of the “church militant” to prevail in “a major war”.
The ‘clash of civilizations’ idea, popularised by Samuel Huntington at the time of the ‘war on terror’ may not be new. But the religious fervour with which Bannon approaches it is.
During Bannon’s time at Breitbart the website promoted white supremacist Richard Spencer as the founding figure of the alt-right of which the publication was such a cheerleader. Another racist, Virginia Hale, began writing for the website under Bannon’s tenure. She has said that black and Arab people are violent because of their IQ’s, a common theme on the alt-right.
A secondary enemy in this catastrophic confrontation is the left, which Bannon views as undermining western civilization from within as it is assaulted from without. These enemies include feminists, whom he once described as a “bunch of dykes”.
Bannon is also in line with the Trump administrations new hostility with China, though he has been more explicit. In March 2016 Bannon predicted the US would be “going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years”, and added this was “no doubt” about this confrontation.
The cycle of decline in western society
Where some forms of centrist politics view society as characterised as by stability and order, Bannon’s radical nationalist and conservative ideology stresses conflict between social forces, which he believes is inevitable as society enters periods of catastrophe.
It is common on the radical right to view civilizations as moving through cycles of ascendancy and decline. The German Historian Otto Spengler, an important influence in the alt-right, viewed each civilization as passing through a cycle of youthful productivity and into an era of decadence and decline.
Bannon refers to a time “when capitalism was…at its highest flower”, a time which has now passed into “a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the west, a crisis of capitalism.”
Bannon’s favourite version of the cycles theory is one elaborated by historians Neil Howe and William Strauss, which claims there are roughly 80 year cycles in American history, ended by catastrophic events such as the American civil war. Bannon believes he and the Trump movement are intervening in the latest crisis, something he calls “the fourth turning” in order to reorganise society in their favoured image.
Bannon lays out some of his views before the Trump movement, including “the fourth turning”
The “Party of Davos”
Among conservative thinkers who assume crisis and conflict, there is another division. It goes back to the birth of conservatism and modern ideology.
At the time of the French revolution, Edmund Burke (mentioned by Bannon in the video above) trained his anger on the mob. In his history of the same event, Scots radical conservative Thomas Carlyle blamed the leadership of society for social chaos.
Bannon falls mainly in the latter camp. He calls the current leadership of society the “party of Davos”, after the plush ski resort attended by the world’s political and economic elites.
He believes they are materialists and internationalists who have robbed society of natural order and spiritual value.
He has said: “I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
The spiritual force behind capitalism
Like many on the radical right, Bannon’s political thought is infused with fanatical religion. He believes the spread of capitalism and the current world order was made possible by “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, whose followers are elected by “divine providence” to be uniquely economically productive.
The belief that God can indicate his favoured individuals by rewarding them with material wealth, so called ‘prosperity theology’, has a large following in the US, particularly on the right, and has deep roots in the protestant tradition.
By universalising this view to societies as well as individuals, the radical right can promote a global hierarchy based (outwardly, anyway) more on religion than race.
Figures, including less radical conservatives aren’t spared for betraying Bannon’s view of who the forces of God are. During his time as Breitbart editor, David Horrowitz wrote an article on the site describing Bill Kristol as a “renegade Jew”.
What will Bannon do?
Ideology isn’t everything, and Bannon and Trump will face real world problems of implementation, not least resistance from the US population. But there are four broad suggestions that can be made based on Bannon’s outlook.
The first is that Bannon is unafraid of crisis. He assumes that one is inevitable and ongoing; all that matters is the resolution.
The second is that he is unafraid of conflict, and he believes struggle between the left and right can resolve the crisis and restore US “greatness”.
Thirdly, he assumes that at least part of this conflict will be with the ‘elite’, and the new administration will continue to clash with elements of the state.
Lastly, Bannon thinks God is on his side, and he will encourage the Trump administration to act with fanatical determination.
Further reading: A return to the 1930s? Trumpism and the new right explained
Picture courtesy of Don Irvine
Video: Youtube/Eagle Bites
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