Last week, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was removed from the National Security Council’s Principals Committee. Bannon’s placement on the council in January was unusual; his office had not previously held a seat. The committee is made up of several Cabinet members, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Director of National Intelligence, among others. The council’s purpose is to provide the President with information on national security threats and to coordinate responses to such threats.
Bannon’s position, Chief Strategist–an unconfirmed, non-expert role that didn’t exist before the Trump Administration–is largely political, which raises the specter of handling national emergencies in a way not to protect America’s interests and citizens, but to maximize the political gain for Donald Trump. Aside from that, Bannon himself has little relevant experience: he was a junior Navy officer for seven years, part of which was spent at the Pentagon, and holds a degree in National Security Studies. His post-military career shows no hands-on national security experience. A person like Bannon, occupying the kind of job Bannon occupies, never belonged on the NSC in the first place.
Bannon’s removal, however, is an insufficient step for two reasons. First, the Trump White House is, by all appearances, a world where the actual position a person holds matters less than their proximity to the President. Jared Kushner, for example, is a senior advisor to the President; his “portfolio” includes such small tasks as handling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and running the new Office of American Innovation. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who occupies the office responsible for handling diplomacy, appears to be doing as little as possible. In such an environment, simply removing Bannon from the council does nothing to remove him from influence.
The second reason is that Steve Bannon should not have any influence in the White House, because Steve Bannon is indistinguishable from a white supremacist. I say “indistinguishable from” because I have not, at this time, been able to find any comment by Bannon explicitly calling for ethnic cleansing, or a whites-only state, or any of the other viscerally horrible things that white supremacists call for.
But his policies certainly trend in that direction. Both the Mexican border wall and the Muslim ban policies were pushed by Bannon; neither policy makes the country materially safer, and both policies punish a dark-skinned, outside group for trumped-up crimes, much of which are established via guilt by race rather than anything measurable. And as the executive chair of Breitbart news, the site moved to become “the alt-right go-to website,” pushing “white nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness.” And that’s former Breitbart editor and conservative writer Ben Shapiro writing. You might say that the editor of a website doesn’t have to believe everything that website puts out, and I would agree with you. But if Torchlight started calling for the proletariat to seize the means of production, consistently and repeatedly, you might start to wonder if that Tom Rich fellow has Communist sympathies.
Maybe, deep in his heart, Steve Bannon doesn’t hate everyone who isn’t a Christian of European descent. But when the policies he pushes are applauded by those who do, we should be concerned. The end-state of Bannon’s worldview is not particularly different from the end-state of Richard Spencer’s. It is the old America for Americans argument, with “Americans” defined as narrowly and lily-white as possible. It is an America, no longer a shining city on a hill with a lamp lifted beside the golden door, but a walled fortress, gates barred and spotlights sweeping the landscape for any would-be trespassers.
If we believe that American ideals actually matter–if certain rights are inalienable, if creation was performed equally among people, if our One nation does, in fact, emerge out of Many–we should all be glad that Steve Bannon is off the National Security Council, and his repulsive views are no longer represented there. But we should hold that removal as insufficient, and demand his complete removal from the White House.