Steve Bannon’s appointment as Donald Trump’s campaign manager in August shocked the world. Bannon headed up Breitbart, a news site that consistently expresses anti-black and anti-woman views, and is on record endorsing white nationalist views. Giving him a platform as influential as campaign manager was unthinkable, even for Trump, and his place in the White House elicited even more concern. However, Bannon’s brief tenure as a White House advisor has shown how unprepared and incompetent he is in the role, and does not at all justify the Machiavellian character that Trump’s opposition has built him up to be.
Before becoming a vital member of the Trump team, Bannon was just a guy who ran a blog. Breitbart, although popularized by the rise of the alt-right, relied less on hard-hitting journalism to make a mark than outlandish, provocative headlines designed to get attention. Breitbart’s most reprehensible articles had titles like “Trannies 49 Xs Higher HIV Rate” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” Exploiting people’s outrage to get attention is an old and tired strategy, and doesn’t mean that Bannon is a political genius that is pulling all the strings.
In fact, the most significant piece of legislation released under the Trump administration that clearly has Bannon’s fingerprints on it, the attempted Muslim ban, was wildly incompetent and ineffectual. It was an outrageous proposition, but it was outrageous in the way that Breitbart’s headlines were, which doesn’t work with the U.S. court system. The ban was repealed almost instantly, and when it was re-instituted a few weeks later, it was struck down again. In Judge Derrick Watson’s decision, he cited previous statements by Trump’s inner circle to prove that the ban “was issued with a purpose to disfavor a particular religion”. Not that Machiavellian, no?
It’s hard to find a Bannon-linked proposal that doesn’t expose his complete lack of experience in politics. The executive order that put Bannon on the NSC was signed by Trump without knowledge of its contents, and Trump became angry when the media made him aware of the order he signed. Either Bannon didn’t know that he was placing himself on the NSC, or he thought he could sneak on the Council and demote the Joint Chiefs without anyone noticing or objecting, neither of which support the conniving, double-dealing image of Bannon.
Hyping up Bannon as this evil genius distracts from the harmful things that other members of the government are actually doing. Paul Ryan’s AHCA, which promises to raise premiums and leave millions without insurance, is the most impactful and harmful piece of legislation introduced since Trump took office, and it was crafted entirely by career politicians. Sure, it may be tempting to hype up Bannon, the shadowy white nationalist, but more familiar political characters are in a much better position to craft policy that will cause tangible pain to millions of people.
None of this means that Bannon isn’t dangerous — he’s a government employee that has endorsed white nationalism and is reported to be an anti-Semite, and his mere presence implies government tolerance of those ideas. But the danger of Bannon is like the danger of a toddler grasping a gun, and devoting too much of a focus on his inability to use his frightening influence takes the spotlight off competent threats.
Chastain-Howley is a rhetoric and writing junior from Dallas.