On Friday, I wrote that I was actually feeling a bit better about Donald Trump’s Tuesday night victory.
The schadenfreude is still great but, overall, that sentiment now seems to have been somewhat short lived.
As was always the case with Trump throughout the primary and general elections, every time I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, he does something stupid and/or objectionable. Yesterday, that took the form of his announcement that he is hiring
Trump Pravda Breitbart News chieftain and iconic “alt-right” figurehead Steve Bannon, who most recently served as his campaign chief executive officer, as his White House chief strategist and senior counselor.
I have never personally met Steve Bannon, and I want to emphasize that I cannot directly speak to his character. But those who know him well seem to often—not exclusively, but often—have nothing but genuinely awful things to say about the man who transmogrified Breitbart News from an eminently respectable anti-establishment conservative media outlet to a fringe, racially-tinted propaganda site. Here was Ben Shapiro in August:
Under Bannon’s Leadership, Breitbart Openly Embraced The White Supremacist Alt-Right. Andrew Breitbart despised racism. Truly despised it. He used to brag regularly about helping to integrate his fraternity at Tulane University. He insisted that racial stories be treated with special care to avoid even the whiff of racism. With Bannon embracing Trump, all that changed. Now Breitbart has become the alt-right go-to website, with [Milo] Yiannopoulos pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers. …
Bannon Is A Legitimately Sinister Figure. Many former employees of Breitbart News are afraid of Steve Bannon. He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: he’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination. Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not. He will attempt to ruin anyone who impedes his unending ambition, and he will use anyone bigger than he is—for example, Donald Trump—to get where he wants to go. Bannon knows that in the game of thrones, you win or die. And he certainly doesn’t intend to die. He’ll kill everyone else before he goes.
Bannon does not shy away from the term, “alt-right.” In fact, he openly embraces it:
He has also allegedly (emphasis on allegedly, here, because in-court testimony in divorce proceedings are famously unreliable) said explicitly anti-Semitic things in the past, which, if true, is surely music to the ears of the “alt-right” cesspool:
Bannon's ex-wife swore in court in 2007 that he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews…He said he doesn’t like Jews…"
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) November 13, 2016
Bannon’s influence was largely viewed as the driving force behind some of Trump’s more aggressively populist, conspiracy-minded rhetoric in the closing stanzas of the tumultuous campaign, such as his disgraceful October 13 screed that many, including I, viewed as having thinly veiled anti-Semitic undertones:
As I wrote last May, this is not a joke. I am genuinely trying to be humble and give President-Elect Donald Trump a clean slate. Through completely indefensible decisions such as his continued bromance with Steve Bannon, however, Trump is making it difficult for us skeptics to show him such grace. Bannon is a deeply controversial figure who fans the flames of some of the worst segments of the American political spectrum and, if many of those who claim to know him well are to be believed, may well be a bad man himself.
The bleak reality appears to be that the wretched “alt-right” movement will be featured prominently in the Trump Administration. Make no mistake about what the “alt-right” actually is: it is populist in a Pat Buchanan/Ross Perot sense, yes, but it is also a racialist, Jew-hating, pseudo-white nationalist movement. And far from condemning it, President-Elect Trump is now placing one of its leading provocateurs in a powerful White House position.
We should still strive for humility and attempt to support the President-Elect when he deserves our support. Indeed, I am earnestly hoping and praying for his success. But we also need to stridently criticize Trump when he errs, and his decision yesterday regarding Bannon must be strongly rebuked. For Reaganite conservatives and constitutionalists who see our own political party in power, it is all too easy to slip into blasé complacence. That slip must be powerfully resisted. As Harry Potter character Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody would put it, there must be constant vigilance over President-Elect (and, later, President) Donald Trump. Praise him when he deserves praise, but hold his feet to the fire when—as here—he deserves pushback.