An American president’s Chief Strategist is rarely known outside of those who follow politics. Steven Kevin Bannon has proven to be an exception. Democrats and Moderate Republicans, have viewed the executive chairman of Breitbart News with suspicion and hatred in his short tenure. The man credited by Time magazine as “‘The Great Manipulator’, the second most powerful man in the World’” left the White House on August 18 to a mixed reception from the nation.
Mr. Bannon was born on November 27, 1953, to an Irish Catholic, Democrat family. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976, joining the Navy soon after. While in the Navy he earned his Master’s Degree at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in National Security Studies. It was during this time of his life he became political.
While serving in on the USS Paul F. Foster, Bannon’s ship was deployed to the Persian Gulf for the Operation Eagle Claw. The mission ended in failure which changed his worldview. Initially uninterested in politics, Bannon became a staunch Reaganite. During an interview after 9/11, he was quoted saying, “I wasn’t political until I got into the service and saw how badly Jimmy Carter f***ed things up. I became a huge Reagan admirer. Still am. But what turned me against the whole establishment was coming back from running companies in Asia in 2008 and seeing that Bush had f***ed up as badly as Carter. The whole country was a disaster.”
Taking his far-right stance public, Steve Bannon co-founded Breitbart News along with Andrew Breitbart. He assumed the title of Executive Chair upon the death of Mr. Breitbart in 2012. He ran this site until joining Trump’s Presidential campaign August 2016. Using the site, Bannon promoted his ultra-conservative, anti-global agenda. Time magazine described the site as “racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic.”
Breitbart News is credited for propagating the “Alt-Right.” This group split from mainstream conservatism to focus on white supremacy as their primary message. Their radical right-wing nationalistic stance attracted many disenfranchised white males, the demographic primarily credited for electing Donald Trump to the presidency.
After becoming integral to Trump’s staff Steve Bannon no longer had direct control over Breitbart, though the website continued to viciously attack his political rivals. The majority of attacks were proven to be baseless rumors or blatant lies. Notable examples include: ‘Pizzagate’ (theory Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of a pizzeria) and ‘Birtherism’ (the belief President Obama was born in Kenya). While ridiculous, these attacks permeated the election pushing angry whites to vote for Donald Trump.
Trump dismissed critics of Bannon’s appointment to his cabinet saying, “I’ve known Steve Bannon a long time. If I thought he was a racist, or alt-right, or any of the things that we can, you know, the terms we can use. I wouldn’t even think about hiring him.” Famously, Bannon was clear about what he thought of the media that criticized him: “I want you to quote this: the media here is the opposition party. They don’t understand this country. They still do not understand why Donald Trump is the president of the United States.”
Bannon flaunted his power in the White House by insinuating himself into National Security briefings. This has never been a duty of the Chief Strategist. He was later removed from the NSC when National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster reorganized the briefings. Initially, Bannon threatened to quit after his removal but was convinced to stay. He has since attacked McMaster through Breitbart, most recently accusing him as a “Koran-kissing terrorist”.
Mr. Bannon has been credited with several major policy decisions during his tenure in the White House. First, he facilitated the United States decision to leave the international Paris Climate Agreement by asserting that climate change was a lie. He opposes a carbon tax on fossil fuels and government funding of green energy. His second major policy push was the hotly contested ‘Muslim Ban’. The ban halted entry into the U.S. from six primarily Muslim countries. The ban took several forms after the original draft rejected by the courts on constitutional grounds. An altered version has recently been enforced, albeit diminished from the original intent.
Bannon has been under fire inside and outside the White House. White House sources suggested that President Trump suspected his Chief Strategist of leaking information to the press and intentionally stealing credit for his successes. Administration insiders report the decision to remove Bannon came from the new Chief of Staff, General John Kelly. For weeks there were rumors about his possible departure. Charlottesville sealed his departure.
In the aftermath of the violence and Trump’s racially charged reaction, Bannon directly contradicted the President. In one interview with The American Prospect, Bannon stated: “there’s no military solution here, they got us.” On Charlottesville and the aftermath, he said “The longer they talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
This interview infuriated the president. It is unclear whether Bannon had already tendered his resignation before the interview, but soon after he left the White House. Trump and Bannon both claim the separation was cordial. After the announcement, Bannon immediately resumed his prior role as Executive Chairman of Breitbart.
No one believes Bannon’s political influence has diminished upon his exit. Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman, said in an interview with Business Insider: “He will continue to use his weapon of choice, Breitbart, to attack his adversaries inside the West Wing-mainly Jared, Ivanka, Cohn, etc. He will relentlessly attack congressional Republican leadership like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. In many ways, I think Steve will feel liberated….Now he will be able to operate openly and freely to inflict as much damage as he possibly can on the ‘globalists’ that remain in the Trump administration.”
Steve Bannon is the most recent of an unprecedented number of departures for a new White House administration. Bannon’s departure is possibly the highest profile termination. In the past few days, Bannon and Breitbart have turned their ire toward Trump’s political rivals. In the words of Bardella, Bannon will try to “Bring everything crashing down”. Clearly, Steve Bannon believes, while he lost a battle, the war continues.