Many people are trying to explain the national phenomenon which carried Donald Trump into the White House. It’s true that his election signaled a revolt among the non-coastal voters and these voters regard Washington as broken. But why exactly did this unusual candidate resonate? I’d submit that the vast majority of his most fervent supporters couldn’t even fully answer this. Typically the answer to this sort of question would best be revealed in a candidate’s past words and actions, a history that helps one understand exactly their governing philosophy. But Trump isn’t typical and a coherent political past doesn’t exist. He has changed his mind many times and has never had the need to take action in the arena of politics. This leaves many befuddled trying to understand this new Trumpian philosophy. What direction exactly is this administration going to take us? What is their view of America’s position among other nations? How does the White House understand the role of Christianity in the world?
The best way to make sense of these questions is by focusing on a man other than Donald Trump. Sometimes we must ignore the attention Trump naturally draws and see the big picture. Let us shift our attention to Steve Bannon, Trump’s current Chief Strategist and recent campaign chief executive. He is painted by the mainstream news as a racist, nationalist scumbag. The left’s argument can be persuasive, even to conservatives, especially when one is familiar with some questionable episodes in his past, the antagonistic manner his former website (Breitbart) has been run, the fact he has respected-by-conservative enemies such as Ben Shapiro, and, truthfully, his general scumbag appearance. But the mainstream media is shallow, offering only sensational headlines, and this is why the opinions of many seem to be of equal measure. Don’t be fooled, Steven Bannon is a man of depth in almost every way. While indeed controversial, the man is smart with well thought out philosophies and he has Trump’s ear. Mr. Bannon is well decorated, so to say: he is a Navy veteran, graduated from Virginia Tech, holds a masters degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown, received an MBA from Harvard Business School, worked as an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, was an executive producer in Hollywood (boasting 18 films), was CEO of Affinity Media (after he persuaded Goldman Sachs to invest in them), and, until recently, was the CEO of Breitbart News. Steve is also a practicing Roman Catholic.
“If you read Bannon’s Vatican speech, what you meet is a man almost obsessed by concern for the fragility of freedom and peace in our fallen world. Someone consumed by care for the vulnerable among us, and unafraid to confront their powerful oppressors. Steve is tough, like the sheepdogs described in American Sniper—tough enough to defend the defenseless. He once joked about learning from Lenin, but Bannon won’t break eggs to make human omelets, as Lenin did. No, he will break the omelet-makers—the Islamists and globalists who recklessly threaten the innocent…So if you’re committed to genuine Catholic social teaching—to peace, open markets and the sanctity of human life, Steve’s your man.”
-Jason Jones, The Steve Bannon I know
While the ascent of Mr. Bannon may put liberals in hysterics, it’s the Republicans who should brace for impact. As you will soon read, Mr. Bannon DGAF about party politics. With Steve as strategist, it is clear there is a new philosophy in town and Republicans might need to rethink all the positions they have been told by the establishment is gospel. Bannon takes issue with Republican politicians, labeling most as crony capitalists and blaming them for the dire situation we find ourselves in. His opinions and insights carry particular weight since he was a banking insider himself for many years. While we still aren’t positive what policy forms these opinions will take, an attractive argument can certainly be made that it is good to have the comfortable establishment shaken to its core. What we have had for decades clearly doesn’t work for the majority of the country anymore. Many who voted for Trump are in agreement with Bannon: it’s time to rethink everything: trade, labor, the middle class, social policy, national sovereignty, our Christian roots, and the government working for us rather than the other way around.
So what exactly does Steve Bannon think? What is the prevailing philosophy in the White House? Briefly: Fixing a collapsed western economy and culture with a focus on the roots of Judeo-Christian-oriented capitalism, strengthened by economic nationalism, to regain the fruits of which we have taken for granted…and are losing. Less-briefly: the best insight we have right now can be gathered by a conference Mr. Bannon headlined at the Vatican in 2014. In it, he repeatedly discusses the importance of the “Judeo-Christian” underpinnings of the West and the importance of the Church in society. He discusses what caused the crisis in 2008, the reasons voters are revolting, and the problems we face in a series of discussion questions. Buzzfeed posted the entire transcript recently but it is quite long and I contend that a lot of people who might otherwise be interested have avoided it for this reason. Below is some of what I think readers of this blog will find most interesting. Quotes are in order but for full context please read entire transcript. Emphases mine.
Human Dignity Institute Conference, Vatican, Summer 2014
[Steve Bannon:] I want to talk about wealth creation and what wealth creation really can achieve and maybe take it in a slightly different direction, because I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian west, is in a crisis…and it is a crisis both of capitalism but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian west in our beliefs.
…100 years ago, at the exact moment we’re talking, the assassination took place in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand that led to the end of the Victorian era and the beginning of the bloodiest century in mankind’s history…There was trade, there was globalization, there was technological transfer, the High Church of England and the Catholic Church and the Christian faith was predominant throughout Europe of practicing Christians. Seven weeks later, I think there were 5 million men in uniform and within 30 days there were over a million casualties.
That war triggered a century of barbaric — unparalleled in mankind’s history — virtually 180 to 200 million people were killed in the 20th century, and I believe that, you know, hundreds of years from now when they look back, we’re children of that: We’re children of that barbarity. This will be looked at almost as a new Dark Age.
But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people…really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right? The underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism, that capitalism really gave us the wherewithal…That capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana…And I believe we’ve come partly offtrack in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.
We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the Church Militant [TSP: so traditional, oh my!], to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.
I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: One is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity…
I see that every day. I’m a very practical, pragmatic capitalist. I was trained at Goldman Sachs, I went to Harvard Business School, I was as hard-nosed a capitalist as you get. I specialized in media, in investing in media companies, and it’s a very, very tough environment…So I don’t want this to kinda sound namby-pamby, “Let’s all hold hands and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around capitalism.”
But there’s a strand of capitalism today — two strands of it, that are very disturbing.
One is state-sponsored capitalism. And that’s the capitalism you see in China and Russia. I believe it’s what Holy Father has seen for most of his life in places like Argentina, where you have this kind of crony capitalism of people that are involved with these military powers-that-be in the government, and it forms a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn’t spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century.
The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I’m a big believer in a lot of libertarianism…However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the “enlightened capitalism” of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost…
The other tendency is an immense secularization of the West…especially millennials under 30, the overwhelming drive of popular culture is to absolutely secularize this rising iteration.
That call converges with something we have to face, and it’s a very unpleasant topic…jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it.
That war is expanding and it’s …, unfortunately, something that we’re going to have to face, and we’re going to have to face very quickly.
So I think the discussion of, should we put a cap on wealth creation and distribution? It’s something that should be at the heart of every Christian that is a capitalist — “What is the purpose of whatever I’m doing with this wealth? What is the purpose of what I’m doing with the ability that God has given us, that divine providence has given us to actually be a creator of jobs and a creator of wealth?”
And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.
[the following quotes are parts of responses to various questions]
If you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, 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. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians’ faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did.
…the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos. A group of kind of — we’re not conspiracy-theory guys, but there’s certainly — and I could see this when I worked at Goldman Sachs — there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run.
I will tell you that the working men and women of Europe and Asia and the United States and Latin America don’t believe that. They believe they know what’s best for how they will comport their lives. They think they know best about how to raise their families and how to educate their families. So I think you’re seeing a global reaction to centralized government
…we believe in the benefits of capitalism…However, like I said, there’s two strands of capitalism that we’re quite concerned about.
One is crony capitalism, or what we call state-controlled capitalism, and that’s the big thing the tea party is fighting in the United States…The tea party in the United States’ biggest fight is with the the Republican establishment, which is really a collection of crony capitalists that feel that they have a different set of rules of how they’re going to comport themselves and how they’re going to run things. And, quite frankly, it’s the reason that the United States’ financial situation is so dire…we’re the voice of the anti-abortion movement, the voice of the traditional marriage movement…
…middle-class and working-class people — they’re saying, “Hey, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked. I’m getting less benefits than I’m ever getting through this, I’m incurring less wealth myself, and I’m seeing a system of fat cats who say they’re conservative and say they back capitalist principles, but all they’re doing is binding with corporatists.” Right?
… there’s a relatively obscure agency in the federal government…called the Export-Import Bank…it was a bank that helped finance things that other banks wouldn’t do. And what’s happening over time is that it’s metastasized to be a cheap form of financing to General Electric and to Boeing and to other large corporations. You get this financing from other places if they wanted to, but they’re putting this onto the middle-class taxpayers to support this.
…General Electric and these major corporations that are in bed with the federal government are not what we’d consider free-enterprise capitalists. We’re backers of entrepreneurial capitalists. They’re not. They’re what we call corporatist…the fight you’re seeing is between entrepreneur capitalism and the people like the corporatists that are closer to the people like we think in Beijing and Moscow than they are to the entrepreneurial capitalist spirit of the United States.
The 2008 crisis, I think the financial crisis — which, by the way, I don’t think we’ve come through — is really driven I believe by the greed, much of it driven by the greed of the investment banks…traditionally the best banks are leveraged 8:1. When we had the financial crisis in 2008, the investment banks were leveraged 35:1…That made the banks not really investment banks, but made them hedge funds — and highly susceptible to changes in liquidity. And so the crisis of 2008 was, quite frankly, really never recovered from in the United States…
And one of the reasons is that we’ve never really gone and dug down and sorted through the problems of 2008. Particularly the fact — think about it — not one criminal charge has ever been brought to any bank executive associated with 2008 crisis. And in fact, it gets worse. No bonuses and none of their equity was taken… I think you need a real clean-up of the banks balance sheets.
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…the underpinning of this populist revolt is the financial crisis of 2008. That revolt, the way that it was dealt with, the way that the people who ran the banks and ran the hedge funds have never really been held accountable for what they did…
…it’s incumbent upon freedom-loving people to make sure that we sort out these governments and make sure that we sort out particularly this crony capitalism so that the benefits become more of this entrepreneurial spirit and that can flow back to working-class and middle-class people.
[QUESTIONER:] …What was the feeling on Wall Street when they bailed out the banks? How should Christians feel about advocating or being against that?
[Back to Bannon:] I think one is about responsibility. For Christians, and particularly for those who believe in the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West, I don’t believe that we should have a bailout…it was a lot of misinformation that was presented about the bailouts of the banks in the West.
Middle-class taxpayers, people making incomes under $50,000 and $60,000, it was the burden of those taxpayers, right, that bailed out the elites. And let’s think about it for a second. Here’s how capitalism metastasized, is that all the burdens put on the working-class people who get none of the upside. All of the upside goes to the crony capitalists.
The bailouts were absolutely outrageous, and here’s why: It bailed out a group of shareholders and executives who were specifically accountable…
One of the committees in Congress said to the Justice Department 35 executives that they should have criminal indictments against — not one of those has ever been followed up on… there’s a sense between the law firms, and the accounting firms, and the investment banks, and their stooges on Capitol Hill, they looked the other way.
So you can understand why middle class people having a tough go of it making $50 or $60 thousand a year and see their taxes go up, and they see that their taxes are going to pay for government sponsored bailouts…and that is what I think is fueling this populist revolt.
It’s all the institutions of the accounting firms, the law firms, the investment banks, the consulting firms, the elite of the elite, the educated elite, 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.
[QUESTIONER:] What do you think is the major threat today, to the Judeo-Christian Civilization? Secularism, or the Muslim world?
[Back to Bannon:] I certainly think secularism has sapped the strength of the Judeo-Christian West to defend its ideals.
If you go back to your home countries and your proponent of the defense of the Judeo-Christian West and its tenets, often times, particularly when you deal with the elites, you’re looked at as someone who is quite odd. So it has kind of sapped the strength.
[Talking about a different topic now] When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism…
I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward.
[QUESTIONER:] …How should the West respond to radical Islam and not lose itself in the process?
[Back to Bannon:] I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam.
…If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world…
And I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today, is to think, when people 500 years from now are going to think about today…ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?
Because it is a crisis, and it’s not going away. You don’t have to take my word for it. All you have to do is read the news every day, see what’s coming up, see what they’re putting on Twitter, what they’re putting on Facebook, see what’s on CNN, what’s on BBC.
Prevailing political philosophy has just shifted monumentally in the White House. Your thoughts? ☩