Donald Trump will not be the first US president to embrace elements of white nationalism: Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite (as the Nixon tapes demonstrated) and Woodrow Wilson was a segregationist. But Trump will be the only president of the post-civil-rights era to employ as his senior adviser and strategist a known purveyor of white nationalist propaganda – Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart News. This news network, described as a leading organ of white supremacy, seems poised to become a de facto organ of the new administration. As several commentators have observed, Trump, ‘libel bully’ and opponent of a free press, now has his Pravda.
Democrats have decried the prospect of a White House housing white nationalist sympathies, and there are, I bet, Republican leaders who don’t look forward to it. On occasion an out-of-power Republican will speak out against Bannon’s appointment. ‘Just to be clear news media, the next president named a racist, anti-Semite as the co-equal of the chief of staff’, Republican consultant John Weaver tweeted. But, in general, Republicans in power are exercising their rights to remain silent. Republicans abide by their own rules of political correctness, and criticising the president-elect’s concessions to far-right identity politics would be profoundly incorrect.
Of course the far right does not generally represent Trump voters, but if it did not speak to a segment of his base, Stephen Bannon would not be moving to the White House. Of course Trump voters do not constitute a monolithic bloc of bigots, as some hyperbole from the left suggests – some had previously voted for Obama. But the silence of the Republican leadership when confronted with bigotry can make the hyperbole seem true.
Besides, Republicans intent on maintaining power may realise that Trump will need his de facto state-run media to lie about the incompetence and corruption that seem certain to mark his presidency. Trump, whose ignorance of government and policy has long been on display, appears to know little about what his new job – presumptive leader of a so far relatively free world – will entail. When President Obama ‘walked his successor through the duties of running the country’, the Wall Street Journal reports, ‘Mr Trump seems surprised by the scope’.
His transition team seems equally amateurish, as well as arrogant, and, so far, his transition has reportedly been marred by petty vendettas and purges, and slowed by the failure to fill out routine paperwork. ‘By all accounts, his ignorance, and that of his entourage, about the executive branch is fathomless’, a former Bush administration adviser lamented in the Washington Post.