One of the criticisms most frequently levelled at Donald Trump over the past year has been that he is a populist to the point of having no discernible ideology, with his only goal being to attain power. Indeed, this ideological promiscuity initially seemed to be a point of solace to some of his detractors, who felt that it suggested the claims made during his campaign were not necessarily indicative of the legislative direction he would take should he secure election. Trump flaunted his lack of ideological commitment on several occasions, with perhaps the most infamous being when he took three separate stances on abortion in a single three hour interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews last year. Whilst the President may lack a commitment to a particular ideological directive, there is indeed a figure in the White House whose adherence to his beliefs is nothing short of obsessive.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is an ideologue to the core, and was recently described by the Washington Post as “the most powerful man in the White House” due to the great degree of influence he wields over the President. Bannon has never made it much of a secret that he sees Trump as a tool for ideological advancement, telling a reporter for Vanity Fair last summer that “Trump is a blunt instrument for us… I don’t know whether he really gets it or not”. At the time Bannon was still the CEO of the alternative news website Breitbart, which Bannon described as “the platform of the Alt-Right”, and was not officially affiliated with the Trump campaign.
White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is an ideologue to the core, and was recently described by the Washington Post as “the most powerful man in the White House” due to the great degree of influence he wields over the President.
Whilst it is somewhat surprising that a mere two months after his admission that he saw Trump as a means to a greater end Bannon was brought on as Trump’s Campaign Manager, what is perhaps more surprising is his openness about his decidedly radical ideological platform. At a book launch party in 2013, Bannon described himself as a “Leninist” and explained that “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment”. The ant-establishment furore which fuelled Trump’s campaign and propelled him to victory manifests itself in its purest and most final form in the ideological underpinnings of Bannon. All must fall. This is, as Bannon sees it, a necessary step in preparation for a cataclysmic clash of civilisations which is both imminent and inevitable.
Bannon’s bible in this regard is a book entitled The Fourth Turning, which details the apparently cyclical nature of renewal and destruction all societies endure and which Bannon became obsessed with in the mid 2000’s. Neil Howe, one of the book’s co-authors, revealed in an interview with Time magazine that Bannon contacted him multiple times in 2008 about making a film based on the book and was absolutely convinced of the text’s central argument that all societies end in cataclysmic events that obliterate the standing established orders and power structures. David Kaiser, a historian who featured in the film, revealed that Bannon said during filming that “you have the American revolution, and then you have the Civil War, which was bigger than the revolution. And you have the Second World War, which was bigger than the Civil War”, concluding that we are approaching a new war which will continue the trend.
Bannon described himself as a “Leninist” and explained that “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment”.
It truly is this anticipation of war, with the combatants divided along cultural lines, which drives Bannon. He has stated repeatedly on his radio show that “we’re at war” with what he sees as the cultural imperialism of states in the middle east, and has said with certainty that this “global existential war” will result in “another shooting war in the middle east”. Upon assuming the mantle at the head of Breitbart he made this paranoid position the defining directive behind their mission, saying that “our big belief, one of our central organising principles at the site, is that we’re at war”. As he views it, Bannon is leading the fight against the hordes of cultural forces which seek to destroy the west, and obliteration of the establishment is required so that a new government which is prepared to fight and win the culture wars can be erected.
Now, with the Trump presidency underway, the enormity of Bannon’s influence is clear to see. He drafted the executive order for the travel restrictions imposed on seven muslim majority countries and he personally overruled the Department of Homeland Security’s insistence that people with existing green cards be exempt. He also persuaded Trump to appoint him to the National Security Council as a full-time member of the principals committee, giving him a greater say in matters of national security than even the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The disproportionately great levels of power which Steve Bannon is accruing in Washington, both over Trump and other government institutions such as the NSC, means that the specifics of his ideology and his absolute commitment to it are of prime importance to the discussion surrounding this administration.