By Soumya Ghosh
“The center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy. Not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.” – proclaimed Steve Bannon in his address to conservative activists at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC). Bannon, the Chief Strategist in the Trump administration, in this single quote, accurately summarized his provincial worldview.
In his view, every nation-state has an affixed cultural identity. According to him, with the emergence of globalism, this intrinsic cultural identity of the nation-state is inevitably threatened by, as he put it, “open borders”. Open borders or immigration, in his view, had the potential to unravel the cultural identity of America and in essence, dilute its reason for being. For long, the Republican Party had been a bastion for proponents of free-trade. Ronald Reagan, the apparent ideological guru of Trump, once stated, “Free-trade serves the cause of economic progress and it serves the cause of world peace”. In stark contrast, Bannon believes that “economic nationalism” is the antidote to the decadent philosophy of Globalism, which places the interests of multinational corporations and elites over the interests of the commoner.
The Ascendance of Bannon
Born to a white-working class Democratic family in Northern Virginia, Steve Bannon has had a rather noteworthy career. He graduated from the prestigious Harvard Business School and had a stint in the United States Navy. Bannon subsequently worked for Goldman Sachs and thereupon, independently made documentary films. But what brought him to the forefront of the collective conservative imagination was his role at Breitbart News, as its Executive Chairman. Bannon described the website as a “platform for the alt-right”. The ‘altright’ movement can be broadly defined as encompassing a loosely connected set of far-right ideologies and individuals who reject mainstream conservatism and vehemently supported the candidacy of Donald Trump. However, what is worrisome is that Bannon’s intellectual affinity stems from the works of the late Italian esoteric philosopher Julius Evola. Evola influenced the thinking of Benito Mussolini and the German philosopher Oswald Spengler. The works of both portrayed a morbid image of the Judeo-Christian West being eclipsed by the depravity of modernity and social progressivism. Thus, one can argue, this notion of the Judeo-Christian West being jeopardized by the alleged onslaught of Islamism and Secularism helped shape the now rescinded travel ban. The ban blocked the citizenry of seven Muslim-majority nations. Bannon allegedly oversaw the wording of this ban, and after its rescinding is supervising another comprehensive travel ban to circumvent any potential legal challenges.
The Emergence of Trumpism
What commentators failed to interpret is that the ideology of Trumpism is far more nuanced and coherent than it was believed to be. It inherently is a synchronization of economic nationalism – the economic philosophy promoting trade protectionism. It is supposedly a remedy to secure American jobs and Judeo-Christian infused traditionalism: influencing the administration’s decisions on social issues and protecting the “cultural identity” of America. Truth be told, Steve Bannon was right in his assessment that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) championed by globalists had a spill over effect in the now closed-down factories scattered across the length and breadth of the Rust Belt states. American jobs were shipped to Mexico due to lower wages and fewer government regulations. What he failed to analyse is that NAFTA boosted investment and created millions of jobs in other sectors, while, the inexorable reality of automation also bolstered job losses in the automobile industry. The perpetual emphasis by liberals on minority rights and the gradual ascendancy of social progressivism in the Western World, further harden Bannon’s worldview. From Bannon’s standpoint, Judeo-Christian infused ‘nationalism’ is the harbinger of true unity – where all the citizenry inhabiting the nation-state live under this broad ideology, morphing into a common ‘American’ sense of being – the fundamental platform on which the nation-state of America lies on.
Having the ear of the President
Interestingly enough, Steve Bannon garnered a place in the powerful National Security council. Via this position, his role transcended from that of a domestic policy-maker to a National-Security policy influencer. It can be reasonably inferred that Bannon enjoys a tremendous amount of influence in the White House owing to the fact that the ideologies of Bannon and Trump mirror that of each other, when compared to those of mainstream conservative ideologues. Through the influence he enjoys, Bannon successfully uses the Presidency as a vehicle to propagate his own distinctive set of ideologies to try and mitigate the alleged crisis engulfing the Western World. As the great Irish philosopher and politician Edmund Burke once stated in his book ‘The Reflections on the Revolution in France’ – “It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters”. Steve Bannon is inescapably chained to the apocalyptic worldview shaping his morbid dystopias and that of the Trump administration at large. This essentially reduces Bannon’s intellectual autonomy.