Too afraid to ask: Who is Steve Bannon?

    Last week, #PresidentBannon trended on Twitter amid protests of President Trump’s ban on immigration and the announcement that Bannon would occupy a top seat in the Natural Security Counsel. The hashtag argues that Steve Bannon, counselor to Donald Trump, controls Trump. This shadowy figure has exerted great influence on Trump since the presidential campaign and as his influence grew more obvious to the public, he became infamous in popular culture. Bannon’s alleged control of Trump has been parodied on Saturday Night Live and referenced in Time magazine’s most recent cover. However, Bannon’s official role remains unclear.

    Who is Steve Bannon?

    Bannon made a name for himself in politics by directing several movies that advocated conservatism, such as Clinton Cash and Occupy Unmasked. Bannon would later become executive chair of Breitbart News, where he created a platform for the alt-right, a racist white nationalist movement. Because the alt-right supported the Trump campaign, Trump rewarded Bannon’s support by hiring him to be the campaign’s CEO. The administration’s attacks of mainstream media are influenced by Bannon. These prejudiced views also appear in Bannon’s personal life. A court declaration from Bannon’s ex-wife stated that he hated Jews and refused to allow his daughters to go to a school with many Jewish children.

    What is Bannon’s role in the Trump Administration?

    Steve Bannon’s official position is chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. Bannon’s anti-establishment views and support for nationalist populism put him in conflict with Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff and the former RNC chair, who represents the establishment side of the administration. Trump’s executive branch is ordered in such a way that a few key advisors have easy access to the president. This style of governing can create factions within the administration. Bannon’s side seems to be gaining influence, with former Breitbart staffers joining the White House. The immigration ban was another victory for the Bannon faction. The senior counselor also gained unprecedented access to the National Security Counsel when he got a top seat in the Principals Committee of the NSC, a committee that debates foreign policy issues and sends suggestions to the president. Normally, the committee excludes political operatives in favor of foreign policy experts. This normal separation between foreign policy wonks and political aides made the announcement that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the director of national intelligence would have reduced roles in the Principals Committee all the more shocking. The Principals Committee. Bannon’s role in the White House seems to be much larger than previous political advisers. Bannon’s unique presence has inspired criticism from civil rights groups, foreign policy experts and free press activists. As the Trump administration continues to implement its policies, the amount of criticism is likely to grow. Undeterred by the criticism of insiders that he has fought throughout his time in politics, Bannon is most likely going to become more influential.

    Why should I care?

    Bannon’s outsider views have already lead to the messy implementation of a vague ban that has received criticism for being racist and incompetent. A president as inexperienced in government as Trump needs to heavily rely on his advisors. Following the advice of an unprofessional person with bigoted views could lead to policies as wrong headed as the travel ban. Bannon’s desire for the media to stay quiet could also erode the press’ relationship with the White House and set a dangerous precedence for government opposition to negative media coverage. In summary, Bannon’s impulsive views could push Trump in a more authoritarian direction.


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