What does Donald Trump want for America? His supporters don’t know. His party doesn’t know. Even he doesn’t know. If there is a political vision underlying Trumpism, however, the person to ask is not Trump. It’s his éminence grise, Stephen K. Bannon, the chief strategist of the Trump administration.
Bannon transcended his working-class Virginia roots with a stint in the Navy and a degree from Harvard Business School, followed by a career as a Goldman Sachs financier. He moved to Los Angeles to invest in media and entertainment for Goldman, before starting his own investment bank specializing in media. Through a combination of luck (a fallen-through deal left him with a stake in a hit show called Seinfeld) and a knack for voicing outrage, Bannon remade himself as a minor luminary within the far edge of right-wing politics, writing and directing a slew of increasingly conservative documentaries.
Bannon’s influence reached a new high in 2012 when he took over Breitbart News, an online news site, following the death of creator Andrew Breitbart. While at Breitbart, Bannon ran a popular talk radio call-in show and launched a flame-throwing assault on mainstream Republicans, embracing instead a fringe cast of ultra-conservative figures. Among them was Trump, a frequent guest of the show. They established a relationship that eventually led Bannon to mastermind Trump’s populist romp to the White House, culminating in his taking the administration’s most senior position (alongside the chief of staff, Reince Priebus).
It’s impossible to know for sure what Bannon will do with his newfound power; he honors few interview requests lately, ours included. (The White House did not respond to our request to speak with Bannon.) But his time as a conservative filmmaker and head of Breitbart News reveals a grand theory of what America should be. Using the vast amount of Bannon’s own publicly available words—from his lectures, interviews, films and more—we can construct elements of the vision for America he hopes to realize in the era of Trump.
The three tenets of Bannonism
Bannon’s political philosophy boils down to three things that a Western country, and America in particular, needs to be successful: Capitalism, nationalism, and “Judeo-Christian values.” These are all deeply related, and essential.
America, says Bannon, is suffering a “crisis of capitalism.” (He uses the word “crisis” a lot—more on that later.) Capitalism used to be all about moderation, an entrepreneurial American spirit, and respect for one’s fellow Christian man. In fact, in remarks delivered to the Vatican in 2014, Bannon says that this “enlightened capitalism” was the “underlying principle” that allowed the US to escape the “barbarism” of the 20th century.
Since this enlightened era, things have gradually gotten worse. (Hence the “crisis.”) The downward trend began with the 1960s and ’70s counterculture. “The baby boomers are the most spoiled, most self-centered, most narcissistic generation the country’s ever produced,” says Bannon in a 2011 interview.
He takes on this issue in more detail in Generation Zero, a 2010 documentary he wrote and directed. The film shows one interviewee after another laying out how the “capitalist system” was slowly undermined and destroyed by a generation of wealthy young kids who had their material needs taken care of by hardworking parents—whose values were shaped by the hardship of the Great Depression and World War II—only to cast off the American values that had created that wealth in the first place. This shift gave rise to socialist policies that encouraged dependency on the government, weakening capitalism.
Eventually, this socialist vision succeeded in infiltrating the very highest levels of institutional power in America. “By the late 1990s, the left had taken over many of the institutions of power, meaning government, media, and academe,” says Peter Schweizer, a writer affiliated with Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute, a conservative think tank, in Generation Zero. “And it was from these places and positions of power that they were able to disrupt the system and implement a strategy that was designed to ultimately undermine the capitalist system.” (As he says “undermine the capitalist system,” the film zooms in on the word “Lucifer” in that now-infamous epigraph from Saul Alinsky.)
Underlying all of this is the philosophy of Edmund Burke, an influential 18th-century Irish political thinker whom Bannon occasionally references. In Reflections on the Revolution in France, Burke presents his view that the basis of a successful society should not be abstract notions like human rights, social justice, or equality. Rather, societies work best when traditions that have been shown to work are passed from generation to generation. The baby boomers, Bannon says in a lecture given to the Liberty Restoration Foundation (LRF), failed to live up to that Burkean responsibility by abandoning the tried-and-true values of their parents (nationalism, modesty, patriarchy, religion) in favor of new abstractions (pluralism, sexuality, egalitarianism, secularism).
For both Burke and Bannon, failure to pass the torch results in social chaos.
The new liberal order
Once in power, the liberal, secular, global-minded elite overhauled the institutions of democracy and capitalism to tighten its grip on power and the ability to enrich itself. The “party of Davos,” as Bannon long ago dubbed this clique, has warped capitalism’s institutions, depriving middle classes everywhere of the wealth they deserve.
This pattern of exploitation came to a head in the 2008 global financial and economic crisis. Wall Street—enabled by fellow global elites in government—spun profits out of speculation instead of investing their wealth in domestic jobs and businesses. When the resulting bubble finally burst, the immoral government stuck hardworking American taxpayers with the bailout bill.
This is the kind of thing that led Bannon to say in that 2011 LRF lecture that there is “socialism for the very wealthy.” The rest of the country, he says, is “common sense, practical, middle-class people.”
There is also “socialism for the very poor,” he adds. “We’ve built a welfare state that is completely and totally unsupportable, and now this is a crisis.”
Bannon wants all of this liberal-sponsored “socialism” to end. He celebrates CNBC host Rick Santelli’s famous 2009 tirade about “those who carry the water and those who drink the water,” which sparked what became the Tea Party, a populist movement focused on tax cuts, fiscal scrimping, and a narrow interpretation of constitutional rights. Channeling the spirit of the Tea Party, Bannon blames Republicans as much as Democrats for taking part in cronyism and corruption at the expense of middle class families.
“We don’t really believe there is a functional conservative party in this country and we certainly don’t think the Republican Party is that,” says Bannon in a 2013 panel in which he discusses Breitbart’s vision. “We tend to look at this imperial city of Washington, this boomtown, as they have two groups, or two parties, that represent the insiders’ commercial party, and that is a collection of insider deals, insider transactions and a budding aristocracy that has made this the wealthiest city in the country.”
In short, in Bannonism, the crisis of capitalism has led to socialism and the suffering of the middle class. And it has made it impossible for the current generation to bequeath a better future to its successors, to fulfill its Burkean duty.
So what exactly are these traditions that Americans are meant to pass along to future generations? In addition to “crisis of capitalism,” one of Bannon’s favorite terms is “Judeo-Christian values.” This is the second element of his theory of America.
Generation Zero, Bannon’s 2010 documentary, has a lot to say about “American values,” and a lot of this matches closely the ideals of the Tea Party. But since 2013 or 2014, Bannon’s casual emphasis on American values has swelled to include a strong religious component. The successful functioning of America—and Western civilization in general—depends on capitalism, and capitalism depends on the presence of “Judeo-Christian values.”
For Bannon, capitalism was not only responsible for bringing the US out of the war successfully; it also brought about the restoration of Europe and the Pax Americana that followed, he explains in his 2014 speech to the Vatican conference. But capitalism alone is not enough. Unmoored from a Judeo-Christian moral framework, capitalism can be a force of harm and injustice—exemplified by the US’s economic decline.
To restore the health of America’s economy and patch its shredded social fabric, Bannon wants capitalism to be re-anchored by the Judeo-Christian values he believes made the country great throughout its history. This shared morality ensures that businesses invest not just for their own benefit, but also for the good of native workers and future generations.
As in Burke’s view, human rights and civil society do not come from anything abstract, but from tradition. For Bannon, this tradition is God; nation-states that establish people as the arbiters of truth and justice will ultimately give way to tyranny. The “ultimate check on the power of the state is God’s teaching,” says Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson in Torchbearer, the 2016 documentary that Bannon co-wrote, directed and produced. The film is full of Robertson offering similar aphorisms about how society falls apart without a religious foundation.
It’s important to note that “Judeo-Christian values” does not necessarily seem to require that all citizens believe in Christianity. Bannon doesn’t appear to want to undo the separation of church and state or freedom of religion enshrined in America’s constitution. After all, both of these are traditions that have led America to success in the past. What he believes is that the founding fathers built the nation based on a set of values that come from the Judeo-Christian tradition.
In order to make sure the whole country is on board with these values, it must limit or halt the influx of people who do not share them by rallying around nationalism. And it is through this final ingredient—the primacy of the nation-state’s values and traditions—that America can drive a stake through the heart of the global, secular “establishment.”
In addition to enriching themselves and encouraging dependency among the poor, global elites also encourage immigrants to flood the US and drag down wages. Immigrant labor boosts the corporate profits of globalists and their cronies, who leave it to middle-class natives to educate, feed, and care for these foreigners. The atheistic, pluralist social order that has been allowed to flourish recoils at nationalism and patriotism, viewing them as intolerant and bigoted. Without the moral compass of our forefathers, the system is so adrift in relativism that it champions the “rights” of police-hating deadbeats, criminal aliens, and potential terrorists over ordinary Americans, turning cities into hotbeds of violence and undermining national security. As one interviewee declares in Border War: The Battle over Illegal Immigration, another of Bannon’s documentaries, “The right sees [undocumented immigrants] as cheap labor, the left sees this as cheap votes.”
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Source: What Steve Bannon really wants