Everyone trying to read Trump’s tea leaves wants to know who will be purveying his tea, so to speak. One of the few announcements so far is his “chief strategist and senior counsellor” Steve Bannon, who was until recently Trump’s campaign strategist.
It was Bannon who took over fringe conservative news site Breitbart after its owner and namesake died, transforming it into a lurid site full of fetid conspiracy that (says conservative writer Ben Shapiro) “has become the alt-right go-to website… pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness, and the comment section turning into a cesspool for white supremacist meme-makers.”. (Sample headlines: 'Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage'; ‘'Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy'; ‘Trump 10% vindicated: CBS reports ‘swarm’ on rooftops celebrating 9/11’’; ‘Huma Abedin ‘Most Likely a Saudi Spy’ With ‘Deep, Inarguable Connections’ to ‘Global Terrorist Entity’; and ‘Fact Check: Were Obama and Hillary founders of ISIS? You bet.’
There’s more. This is only a taste. As someone said, if you heard some lurid, fact-free alt-right bullshit fantasy over the U.S. election campaign, chances are good it began at Breitbart.
So, this is a fellow who makes Ian Wishart look like a serous fact-checker. Neither an alt-righter nor a conspiracy theorist himself – nor yet the white nationalist that the likes of CNN claim him to be -- like his new boss however he’s clearly happy however to dangle carrots in all those directions for ends that are clearly his own.
Whatever wayward direction he takes may be revealed in one of the few lucid commentaries he’s issued in recent years, praising in a speech at the Vatican, of all places, what he calls “the 'enlightened capitalism' of the Judeo-Christian West” which appears to be simply an update of the old, stale anti-communist conservatism that has “come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union.” The world was certainly delivered from the twentieth-century’s totalitarian Dark Age, he says, in a
great war [that was] really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right? The underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism, that capitalism really gave us the wherewithal. It kind of organised and built the materials needed to support, whether it’s the Soviet Union, England, the United States, and eventually to take back continental Europe and to beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East.
“Beat back” not for the cause of reason, individualism and capitalism, but for faith and force and Judeo-Christianity. For that is the flag he is flying. Yet we have been “in a crisis” since this victory, he says, “a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”
And we’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.
Now, what I mean by that specifically: I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: One is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief.
He says that what capitalism looks like to him is explicitly not the capitalism promoted by Ayn Rand – which he feels “is almost…disturbing.” And no wonder it disturbs him because, as he makes clear enough, capitalism to him is emphatically not Rand’s “social system based on the recognition of individual rights” (her words); to him it is simply an engine of production that makes states and religion stronger. Producers put in yoke to drag forward the cart of (western) religion and (western) state power.
This is what this senior strategist calls “enlightened capitalism.”
To his partial credit, he does exclude cronyism from his vision, (“a brutal form of capitalism [sic] that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people”) for which we may at least be thankful. The suspicion here however must be that he not so much opposed to the cronyism, but to the siphoning away of the state’s power for other non-statist/religious ends.
What he delivers in his very careful speech then is a picture of a world he favours, in which “strong countries and strong nationalist movements” should not just be tolerated but encouraged. Add to this strong religion – because “secularism,” he says, “has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideal, right?”
Where to begin!
Nowhere in this picture is there a place for Rand’s reason and individualism. Nor for the global trade that previous generations understood was a real generator of peace and goodwill. Instead, and against all the lessons of history up to now, he argues that this recipe makes not for war, but for “strong neighbours” – that this build-up of autarchic blocs “is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.”
This is the man from whom – at his faux news site – many Trump supporters already take their daily reading, and who will shortly be Donald Trump’s most senior strategist.