Rogue Leadership: Steve Bannon

The liberal bubbles on the coastal states reviled the selection of Steve Bannon as a top White House advisor soon after the November election. Bannon was notorious during and prior to the 2016 campaign as the king-pin of Breitbart News, the flagship alt-right website and blog. Bannon became a top advisor to Donald Trump during his campaign when it was faltering the most from gaffes and poor organization. Following the November election, Trump named Bannon as his “Chief Strategist,” a position in the West Wing which does not require congressional approval, bypassing the national legislature to become one of the most influential people in the US government. And now, Bannon has now been selected as a member of the national security council, a move by Bannon that the NY Times has called a “positioning as de facto president.”

All of this occurred during a complete reshaping of the National Security Council which will now include Bannon and be absent of the regular attendance of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Intelligence Director. In essence, Bannon is entering a vacuum of power which commands the world’s strongest systems of destruction. As such, Bannon will likely be subject to congressional questioning, a golden opportunity for Democrats and the press to shine a light on Bannon’s radical views.

It is true that Steve Bannon’s racist and distasteful rhetoric is mostly a problem of personality and is not likely to influence domestic policy in a significant way from his seat as chief strategist – even if he is mostly to blame for Mr. Trump’s recent executive orders’ perversion in spirit and failure in execution. More troubling from a policy perspective, however, is that Bannon’s influence on foreign policy–including immigration policy–may become disturbingly detrimental to American economic and diplomatic standing in the world.

Steve Bannon’s main flaw is that he is a zealous protectionist; in his words an “economic nationalist.” While he is often associated with the alt-right movement and white supremacist elements which have received mainstream attention in recent month, he has disavowed explicitly racist and xenophobic elements of the Alt-right and yet has still embraced the idea that the United States economy is at direct odds with the rest of the world. This poses major conflicts with the current international order, particularly concerning military alliances, international economic networks, and diplomatic relations.

This is a mindset that should trouble traditional conservatives, liberals and moderates alike. With Bannon at the head of national security decisions, it is likely that the “America First” creed of the Trump campaign translates itself into aggressive assertions for political and economic dominance abroad–particularly in Asia and the Middle East. It also would not be so farfetched to expect distancing from the European Union, which the Trump crowd sees as a globalist project in its final form: nation states surrendering sovereignty for a more regional management of state bureaucracy and the economy. If this were the case, and a Trump administration looked to break down various trade agreements and military commitments, Europe would become vulnerable to a hostile Russia and administratively unable to manage the waves of refugees from the Middle East. Additionally, our mutual economic diversity would suffer, raising prices for European products such as food, cars, shipping containers, industrial products and medical goods.

At a certain point in the presidential campaign, Trump’s protectionism was largely a point of criticism from his primary challengers. Operating under the assumption that Bannon is advising Trump on matters that are directly related to his executive orders on Mexico, refugees, and sanctuary cities, one can assume that Bannon’s economic nationalism is having a substantial impact on the Administration’s policies. Now the government has the option of allowing him a say in military matters, or denying him that direct authority and say in NSC meetings.

Bannon’s radical political philosophy should be emphasized here. Bannon is a believer in a previous world order where states and their respective nations determined the government of geographic regions. This is what he hopes to implement for the United States domestically, but it can only be accomplished if the roots of internationalism are crippled and it would not be surprising if this is achieved by crippling the institutions which foster global trade and cooperation. With Bannon as a top domestic advisor, the buffer of Congress, the Supreme Court and the state governments will be required to protect the American people from the contempt that Bannon holds.. However, it is Bannon on the international stage which should worry conservatives the most. Conservatives, for economic reasons, have fought alongside liberals since the end of WWII for a more interconnected planet which has significantly benefitted business, technological, medical and diplomatic development.

The Trump/Bannon doctrine of “America First” may identify some true problems that exist in the globalized world. Of course, there must be reforms made to international monetary arrangements, manufacturing standards, state bureaucratic red tape with our trading partners, accountability, and significant changes to our own tax code. However, the course that the Trump administration is pursuing is a dangerous one which threatens to break the insurances against conflict between us and other world powers. It is naive to think that China and the US could have developed such close diplomatic ties without  bilateral trade. It is naive to think that Europe would have remained at peace for seventy years without a binding economic agreement. We should start to acknowledge this in order to avert violent conflict in the future. This begins with dumping Steve Bannon.

Martin Maldonado

Pushing Forward

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