This is one of the most important documents in American politics right now, and perhaps ever, given how consequential the next 4-8 years might be. It’s the transcript of a Q&A that Steve Bannon gave (remotely) to a conference on poverty at the Vatican, hosted by the Human Dignity Institute in 2014. Everyone I’ve shown it to, of a variety of political stripes, has had the same reaction I had: it’s illuminating. You learn the framework of his worldview on a variety of issues, like his governing philosophy, his views on finance and Wall St., the role religion, and more, and how they all tie together.
It’s not what you’d expect based on his portrayal in the media, where he’s routinely painted as a vicious white nationalist, and an ambitious, hard-right fascist.
It’s incredibly valuable reading/viewing for all Americans, for understanding the perspective and motivations of an obviously very influential man right now. If you want to engage in politics, and value being informed (and I hope you do), you owe it to yourself to read it. Given the myriad of issues swirling around him (like the #StopPresidentBannon meme, the continual accusations of white supremacy leveled at him, outrage over him being on the National Security Council, and the uproar over potential changes to Dodd-Frank) I think it’s even more critical.
I honestly care much less that you read the rest of this article, than I do that you read this:
Hearing someone’s point of view in their own words doesn’t necessarily give you the full picture of who they are, of course—everyone, especially people of high status and power, might have skeletons they are not forthright about—but it is a huge piece of the puzzle, and if you haven’t done it, yet jump to accept other people’s judgements of them, you are doing yourself a disservice.
One of the most striking things the talk reveals is the sophistication of Bannon’s worldview. He shows a depth of knowledge about a multitude of topics, and a thoughtful approach from a clear moral center.
The most striking part, though, are his views on capitalism, finance, and Wall St. He’s an unrepentant capitalist, but also an unrepentant enemy of crony capitalists. He knows finance, and appears to be very earnest in his aim to stamp out the corrupt practices within it, and ensure capitalism serves the common good. It’s really the driving force, in his view, of the center-right populism we’re seeing in America and elsewhere, and the driving force of his governing philosophy, where he marries the practices of capitalism to the traditional values of the Judeo-Christian west.
This is in opposition to the two other strains of capitalism he sees in the world: state-sponsored, highly corrupt capitalism (a la Russia, China, and to a large extent the crony capitalists of the west) and the Ayn Rand / Objectivist school of libertarian capitalism, both of which turn people into commodities, and do very little to spread wealth and value among the middle and working classes.
Some excerpts on this topic:
I think it really behooves all of us to really take a hard look and make sure that we are reinvesting that back into positive things.
…when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West…And I think that’s incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored. I can see this on Wall Street today — I can see this with the securitization of everything is that, everything is looked at as a securitization opportunity. People are looked at as commodities. I don’t believe that our forefathers had that same belief.
…I think you really need to go back and make banks do what they do: Commercial banks lend money, and investment banks invest in entrepreneurs and to get away from this trading — you know, the hedge fund securitization, which they’ve all become basically trading operations and securitizations and not put capital back and really grow businesses and to grow the economy.
I think the bailouts in 2008 were wrong….absolutely outrageous, and here’s why: It bailed out a group of shareholders and executives who were specifically accountable.
…In fact, one of the committees in Congress said to the Justice Department 35 executives, I believe, that they should have criminal indictments against — not one of those has ever been followed up on. Because even with the Democrats, right, in power…they looked the other way.
…they understood what they were getting into, forcibly took all the benefits from it and then look to the government, went hat in hand to the government to be bailed out. And they’ve never been held accountable today. Trust me — they are going to be held accountable.
Unless you believe this and his other public statements to be an elaborate facade—that he’s crafted an entire framework and set of beliefs purely in order to deceive the public, and kept his real motivations entirely hidden for years—I think this shows that he’s not driven by simply doing rich people favors. I haven’t seen anything to indicate that Trump is driven solely by corrupt motives either. He’s already proven willing and able to stand up to big business (e.g. manufacturers, defense contractors, pharma) in ways no other presidents have, at least not in recent history. Both of their anti-establishment track records seem pretty genuine to me.
Progressives might find they actually have allies in the White House on many issues, including Wall St. in many respects. But the Democrats and the media are loathe to let people come to that conclusion. The recent executive order, that has largely been characterized as an effort to begin a full repeal of Dodd-Frank, simply calls for a review of our financial regulations to ensure they adhere to a certain set of principles, chief among them preventing more taxpayer-funded bailouts, something which Dodd-Frank has not adequately done. Discussion is certainly warranted about the merits of each policy they eventually push to repeal or modify, but the hysteria and hyperbole, as usual, is not warranted.
Taking everything into account, Bannon and Trump might be exactly who we need in the White House right now, to actually stand up to the behemoth of Wall St., and prevent them from royally screwing us over again.
The other major aspect of Bannon’s talk, and of the crisis he believes the west is facing, is the rise and spread of radical Islamic fascism. This is where I have more mixed feelings on his approach. I think the fight against ISIS and Islamic fascism at large is an absolutely necessary one, and we need people like Trump, Bannon, and National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who all recognize the necessity and gravity of that fight in an unmistakable, clear-eyed way (unlike Obama and Clinton, who actually routinely empowered jihadists, and tried to use them as a geopolitical tool).
But, while there may be some merit to it, the extent that he views the world in a “clash of civilizations” and religious framework, combined with the past rhetoric of Trump and Flynn, makes me worry that the administration may pursue this fight in an overzealous way, and frame it in a blunt, xenophobia-stoking way, that polarizes factions and inflames tensions before we can resolve them. The fight for the hearts and minds of moderate Muslims, and to pull Muslim societies as a whole towards more moderate stances, and push them to actively reject extreme ones, is a necessary fight as well, and should not be neglected.
My worry is a bit alleviated by a few factors. One, Bannon’s recognition that people can be opposed to radical Islam but “not as militant and not as aggressive [as he is] and that’s fine.” Two, the fact that he states explicitly that, “It’s very easy to play to our baser instincts, and we can’t do that. But our forefathers didn’t do it either.” And three, that I think he, Trump, and especially Secretaries Mattis, Tillerson, and Kelly, are all ultimately very pragmatic people. Hopefully this will keep the temptation for overzealousness in check, and keep the importance in mind of an inviting posture for fence-sitters to gravitate to, but it’s certainly something to keep an eye on as things unfold.
Seriously, you should read the transcript. If you don’t want to read it because you oppose him politically, you’re being foolish—“know thy enemy”. If you don’t want to read it because you’re afraid you might have your mind changed about him, you’re being weak, and intellectually dishonest. There is little excuse, really, other than apathy, but if you’ve read this far, I’m willing to bet you’re not the apathetic type.
And if you think it’s valuable reading, and that others should read it too, share it. I know a lot of you might be afraid to post something that might make people think you support Trump or his administration even in the slightest way, but this is an easy one. The headline and the article are politically neutral (a transcript, a primary source), and you can share it without comment. If everyone were afraid to share information that went against the dominant narrative, our society would be doomed—fearmongering propagandists, witting and unwitting, would have nothing standing in their way. I encourage you to help un-doom our society in whatever small ways you can. It’s actually quite liberating to throw off the constraints of fear and fear-driven conformity. And it’s the right thing to do.