Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Stephen Bannon: Trump's Scary Chief Strategist

Stephen Bannon/celebrity news
On November 13, 2016 President Elect, Donald J. Trump, appointed Stephen Bannon as his chief strategist and senior counselor.

Bannon (born 11/27/53) grew up in a working class family in Norfolk, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1976, and immediately joined the navy. There he rose in rank to navy officer and was stationed in the Persian Gulf ahead of the unsuccessful attempt to free the Iran hostages in 1979. Bannon was sour on President Carter. "You could tell the operation was going to be a goat fuck," he told Joshua Green for his profile in Bloomberg Politics. Returning from the Persian Gulf, Bannon became assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations, admiral Thomas B. Hayward. The chief of Naval Operations is a political position appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Bannon became a big fan of Ronald Reagan and the way his larger than life movie-actor persona translated to politics.

While working for admiral Hayward in DC, Bannon attended night school and obtained a Master’s Degree from Georgetown University in National Security Studies. After leaving the military he enrolled at Harvard Business School, graduating with an MBA in 1983. He worked at Goldman Sachs, specializing in media companies. In 1990 he moved to Los Angeles and launched Bannon & Co. with Goldman Sachs colleagues. The company developed a model for valuing media firms, a specialty that brought them a lot of business. When Westinghouse wanted to sell Castle Rock Entertainment, Bannon arranged a sale to Turner Network, and, in lieu of fee, obtained a stake in five shows, including Seinfeld. [“We calculated what it would yield if it made it to syndication—we were wrong by a factor of five,” he told Joshua Green of Bloomberg Politics] In 1998 he sold Bannon & Co to Societe General, the French bank. As Green puts it, this enabled him to embark on Hollywood moguldom. [His net worth, however, is unclear: I've seen estimates of $10 million, $20 million and $41 million--none of which would put him in "mogul" territory]

Bannon served as acting director of Biosphere 2, in Arizona in 1993 (he shifted the focus of the work from space exploration to studying pollution and global warming).

So far so good.  But then....

In 2004 Bannon made a documentary “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed” based on the Peter Schweizer book. "In the Face of Evil" is a grandiose, apocalyptic, hagiographic documentary of Reagan. "Carthage must be destroyed," intones the narrator. Reagan was "an outsider, a radical with extreme views..." the film says admiringly. Bannon, we are left to conclude, takes all the apocalyptic imagery dead seriously: "You and I have a rendezvous with destiny; we'll preserve for our children this the last best hope for man on earth, or we'll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness," intones Reagan. But the trailer for the film makes clear Bannon is not thinking of the cold war: he's thinking post 9/11, he's thinking today.... "The story isn't over; you and the audience are part of the conflict." We'll destroy the world in order to save it, suggests the film.

"Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too," Bannon told a writer at the Daily Beast who met him at a party in 2014. "I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment." By getting Trump elected, he's made a good start. As Trump's chief strategist he's in a prime position to wreak maximum havoc.

“This country is in a crisis," Bannon told a gathering of conservatives in Washington D.C.  "And if you’re fighting to save this country, if you’re fighting to take this country back, it’s not going to be sunshine and patriots. It’s going to be people who want to fight.”

It's a frightening thought that In the Face of Evil and Bannon's statements about wanting to "destroy the state" may be even vaguely honest reflections of Bannon's motivating force. It's hard to sleep knowing these are the thoughts of the most important advisor of the president of the United States. It's doubly frightening to think that this man is the most prominent advisor to a president who is a thin skinned, incendiary bully.  In the Face of Evil, and "I want to destroy the state" are worrying reflections as to what Stephen Bannon is about.

Bannon has made other documentaries, "big, crashing, opinionated films with Wagner scores and arresting imagery," says Joshua Green.  Battle for America(2010) celebrated the Tea Party just in time for the 2010 mid-term elections; Generation Zero (2010), examined the roots of the financial meltdown ("in history there are four turnings..., finally the unraveling"); The Undefeated (2011), championed Palin ("to hell with the Establishment, because it's the Establishment that put us in this position in the first place").  Andrew Bretibart described him as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Tea Party movement....

These films and his writings suggest Stephen Bannon longs for the unraveling. He longs for the abyss. He's drawn to it. In his current position, he might just have the power to pull us all down.

In 2005 Bannon met Andrew Breitbart just as Breitbart was leaving the Drudge Report. Breitbart would soon start the hard right opinion and news site Breitbart News Network. He was inspired, together with Larry Solov, on a trip to Israel in 2007: together they would build an unapologetically pro-Israel,  pro-freedom site. A far right wing site. The result is Breitbart News, Breitbart radio, and Breitbart television. Bannon has been its CEO since 2012. The site, they say, has moved farther right since Bannon took the helm. In the wake of this election it has 18 million viewers a month.

Breitbart Network's far right wing politics aside, it lacks integrity. You don't go there for balance,   measured right wing reflection, or wisdom. Bannon is not striving for wisdom; he's out to create chaos. People are apt to get hurt. In 2010 Breitbart published a fraudulently edited video provided by a right wing activist. The video was of Shirely Sherrod, an African American Department of Agriculture official giving a talk to the NAACP. The video was edited to make it seem like she was saying racist things about a white farmer, when in fact she was highlighting the need to overcome personal prejudice. The misleading Breitbart piece was picked up and given a wider audience on Fox News. Shirely Sherrod was fired from her job within hours. Once it was established that the video conveyed the opposite of truth, Fox was in a pickle and Breitbart was banned from Fox for a time. Breitbart's readership and support suffered.

Shirley Sherrod was used as a tool in a propaganda war. She was an innocent victim. But she's not what counts. Sherrod's innocence, her privacy, her honor were cannon fodder like 18 year old boys in trench warfare. It's about ends justifying the means. But what is the end in "I want to destroy the state?" "Chaos?" What means do such ends justify?

“When we do an editorial call," said Alex Marlow, Breitbart's editor in chief, to Joshua Green, "I don’t ... bring ... a one-off story, even if it’d be the best story on the site. Our whole mindset is looking for these rolling narratives.” The most popular "rolling narratives" on Breitbart News are Immigration, ISIS, race riots, and what they call ‘the collapse of traditional values.’ But Hillary, "I’d say Hillary Clinton is tops,” said Marlow to Green last year.

What will they turn to now?

As with Shirley Sherrod, the specific truth, fairness, and objectivity did not matter in Breitbart's rolling Clinton narrative. [The same can be said about much of the media coverage on Clinton's private email server] Wisdom is subordinated to the rolling narrative. When any of us sacrifices truth, fairness, and wisdom on the altar of a rolling narrative it's bad. When this is done by the chief strategist at the head of the Executive Branch of the U.S. Government it's terrifying. What does it lead to when the name of this overarching rolling narrative is chaos?  

Following the Shirely Sherrod affair Breitbart spent two years in the wilderness. It made its way back with another scandal. This time the victim, New York  Congressman Anthony Weiner, was no innocent, but the means employed to bring him low were just as sleazy.

Joshua Green:
Tipped to Weiner’s proclivity for sexting with female admirers, Bannon says, the site paid trackers to follow his Twitter account 24 hours a day and eventually intercepted a crotch shot Weiner inadvertently made public. The ensuing scandal culminated in the surreal scene, carried live on television, of Andrew Breitbart hijacking Weiner’s press conference and fielding questions from astonished reporters.
Is there any reason to think Bannon would shy away from such tactics in his new position as chief strategist and senior counselor to the president? I can think of none. To think that the chief strategist at the head of the Executive Branch would employ the vast powers of the NSA, the FBI, the CIA to go after political enemies in support of his preferred "rolling narrative," and to subordinate truth, justice, and wisdom to a preferred "rolling narrative" is plum scary. You may think "but those are professional organizations, they wouldn't play along." All it takes is a few rotten apples strategically placed.

Read Joshua Green's profile in Bloomberg Politics published October 2015 here.

Follow me on Twitter @RolandNikles

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