Trump’s Troops: Stephen Bannon

February 2, 2017

“And by the way, I think anger is a good thing. This country is in a crisis. And if you’re fighting to save this country, if you’re fighting to take this country back, it’s not going to be sunshine and patriots. It’s going to be people who want to fight.” – Stephen Bannon during a speech in 2013

The angry alpha man in the White House
By now everyone is familiar with President Trump´s comments: the boasting about sexually abusing women, his body shaming tweets and his sexual objectification of women, even of his own daughter. After his was elected, I was just as surprised as many others by how he made it so far. I’m still surprised that he shamelessly continues to attack women and minorities in the United States and abroad.

As if this imposing track record of misbehavior was not enough, Trump named Stephen Bannon as his senior White House strategy advisor, and more recently appointed him a as permanent member of the National Security Council (NSC). With Bannon taking on these functions, the White House door has been thrown wide open for all forms of racism, militarism, misogyny, sexism and xenophobia. American patriotism has become ultra-right nationalism. And with his appointment to the NSC, an unprecedented move, Bannon is now, next to the president, the most powerful person in the White House. Power that he will use and abuse to his heart’s content.

A track record
But what about Bannon makes him so dangerous? Until Trump’s campaign, Bannon was primarily known as the CEO of Breitbart, one of the most popular conservative political news website and the voice of the so-called alt-right movement. That is short for alternative right, but it is difficult to pin down precisely what it stands for. It is at any rate ultraconservative, and is often associated with white supremacy, Islamophobia, homophobia, anti-feminism, antisemitism and various other -isms and phobias. The movement is predominantly an online phenomenon.

Characteristic of the alt-right is that they are men who idolize the traditional, ‘heroic’ aspect of masculinity, thus embracing old-fashioned gender roles. After a brief visit to the Breitbart website, I quickly came up with a collection of headlines which would not have been out of place at the beginning of the 20th century:

“Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy”
“The solution to online harassment is simple: women should log off”
“Would you rather your child had feminism or cancer?”

Under Bannon’s leadership, the tone of the website became increasingly hostile, and more harsh on topics such as terrorism and immigration. A typical Bannon-era headline: “Paris Streets Turned Into Warzone By Violent Migrants.”

This sort of tone on a website with such a large reach is in and of itself cause for concern. But what can we expect now, with Bannon as Trump’s most important advisor, and a permanent member of the NSC? What will this mean for women and minorities in the US and abroad?

Dark thoughts
Bannon is the man who is making good on Trump’s campaign promises. He prefers to communicate with imagery rather than with facts or rational arguments. He was one of the authors of the unusually harsh innaugural adress, in which Trump spoke in apocalyptic terms about ‘American carnage’: a land plagued by drugs and gangs, people supressed into silence, desperate workers, a country robbed of its wealth. In addition, Bannon is thought to have written most of the executive orders Trump has signed in his first two weeks. Bannon believes in chaos and sees politics as a struggle between good and evil: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney, Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.” It’s not for nothing that parts of Trump’s inaugural address were copied word for word from Bane, the bad-guy in the Batman film The Dark Night Rises.

Just like Trump, Bannon is sceptical about international alliances such as NATO, the EU and the UN. He is also not shy about using aggressive military action in the struggle between good and evil. He is above all interested in continuing to expand the alt-right movement and ultraconservative nationalism in Europe. In his analysis, the West is caught up in an existential battle in which our beliefs and values are in crisis. His vision and politics are warmly embraced by populist leaders in, among others, France and the Netherlands. The Dutch right-wing populist Geert Wilders has been a fanatic columnist on the Breitbart site for some time. Breitbart will soon open offices in Berlin and Paris – the European Breitbart sites are expected to become the main online platform for parties on the extreme right.

Global impact
What does this mean for Europe, and for our work here at PAX? How will this influence our efforts to achieve equal rights for all citizens, and particularly for women and minorities? The impact of the Trump/Bannon duo’s executive orders will be felt around the world. To name just a few examples: millions of women will no longer have access to life-saving health care thanks to the global gag order on groups which inform women about the possibility of having an abortion; hundreds of people have been discriminated against, and in some cases detained, based on their country of origin under the sudden immigration and travel ban; growing and empowered extremist right-wing movements which feed off a white nationalist ideology are leading to increased polarization. Populist leaders in Europe feel emboldened, just in time for elections in a number of European countries, including the Netherlands.

While I was writing this blog post, the news stream about Bannon and his role was resounding. I found it difficult not to write a gloom and doom epistle about the future. But I won’t give in to the chaos; instead, I look in the other direction: on the 21st of January I was at Museum Square in Amsterdam for the Women´s March. Looking around me, I saw citizens who felt re-connected with one another, joining together to fight all forms of inequality and injustice. Across the world, an estimated five million people took part. So at least I’m not alone.





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