How Steve Bannon’s haters helped make him a star

The idea that he is some shadowy mastermind is nonsense.

Tom Slater

Today the BBC gave an uncritical platform to a fascist. At least that’s what Twitter tells me. This morning, the Today programme aired an excerpt of an interview with former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, and British commentators and politicians lost it. The reliably mental David Lammy MP called Bannon an ‘avowed white supremacist’, as did comedian-turned-right-on-irritant David Schneider. Many more chastised the BBC for broadcasting Bannon’s views.

The slight problem with this is that Steve Bannon – deeply dodgy though he is – is not a white supremacist, and has never said anything remotely white supremacist. In the BBC interview he even, with little success, tried to paint Trump’s plans for The Wall as ‘anti-racist’, in that getting a handle on illegal immigration would, he said, help out hard-pressed African-American and Hispanic workers. That’s not the sort of thing that white supremacists tend to say. But why let what someone actually thinks get in the way of the retweets.

Of course, it’s not just Bannon. Bitching about the Today programme has become the commentariat’s favourite pastime. Whenever a critic of environmentalism is accidentally allowed on or John Humphrys plays devil’s advocate in a discussion about #MeToo, Hampstead Twitter blows its top. Long-reads have been devoted to exploring why this show, their show, is losing its way by inviting on people with views the metropolitan middle classes find distasteful.

But Bannon has clearly hit a particular nerve. It has very little to do with him, and everything to do with what he is thought to represent. Given his association with Donald Trump, his friendship with Nigel Farage, and his desperate attempts to associate himself with the European populist revolts in Italy and elsewhere, he is a punching bag for liberals’ anti-populist fury. Calling Bannon a fascist is another way of expressing disgust with the millions of ‘Deplorables’ across the Western world who are daring to defy their supposed betters.

What is so frustrating about the depiction of Bannon as some neo-Nazi propagandist, a Goebbels in two shirts, is that there are very real reasons to be critical of him. He was allegedly the one who pushed Trump to be more equivocal in his response to the white-supremacist killing in Charlottesville. On the BBC this morning he refused to criticise Trump’s racist ‘go home’ remarks. He seems happy to go easy on prejudice if he feels like it helps him – either to stay on Trump’s good side or to wind up the media at a time when bright lines need to be drawn, as they were after Charlottesville.

The kneejerk accusations of bigotry obscure what Bannon really is. He is not an unreconstructed racist, but a right-wing culture warrior in an age in which accusations of racism have become the left’s weapon of choice. Trump supporters are not a bunch of backwater bigots. But having had that epithet repeatedly thrown at them, they have become defensive. They are more likely to give Trump’s genuinely racist remarks the benefit of the doubt because of all the times his more innocuous remarks have been denounced out of hand. Bannon understands this. He too would rather let the dodgy things Trump does and says slide than give an inch to the other team.

But what is doubly frustrating about Bannon’s haters is the way they play into his hands. He is desperate to present himself as some populist mastermind, when the truth is far more embarrassing. Yes, he was instrumental in Trump’s election campaign, but he soon became isolated in the White House. He launched the Movement, a kind of consultancy for nationalist parties in the run-up to the EU elections, but it was shunned by most key players. The two-bit outfit, run out of a friend’s Brussels mansion, eventually had to hit the brakes after Bannon realised his activities would be in breach of electoral law in various European countries.

Much has also been made of his supposedly close relationship with Boris Johnson. Bannon says he gave Johnson advice on the speech he gave after resigning from Theresa May’s cabinet. But Johnson has called claims of close links between the two ‘complete codswallop’, and he has been backed up by journalist Michael Wolff – who has profiled the PM and whose book about Trump, Fire and Fury, was based largely on interviews with Bannon. Wolff says that Bannon co-opted him as an intermediary to set up a meeting last summer, but Johnson rebuffed Bannon’s advances.

Across the media, people overestimate Bannon’s influence. Whether they’re denouncing him as a fascist or lining up another hour-long interview, convinced he holds the key to why politics has gone haywire, they feed this fantasy that he is some ‘great manipulator’.

The idea that a former close aide of the president of the United States should be shunned and No Platformed by journalists and broadcasters is obviously ridiculous. And the accusations thrown at Bannon and the BBC today only show how unhinged sections of the British commentariat have become. But at the same time, let’s not feed Bannon’s delusions of grandeur. This fascination with him has done more to inflate his ego than deepen our understanding of the political moment he claims to represent.

Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Pictures by: Getty.

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aidan maconachy

5th August 2019 at 7:38 pm

Tom said:

“The slight problem with this is that Steve Bannon – deeply dodgy though he is – is not a white supremacist, and has never said anything remotely white supremacist.”

Funny how rumpled old Steve is characterized as “deeply dodgy.” Lefty villains routinely get courted by MSM and are accorded all due respect while dishing dodgy ideology. By comparison Steve B seems reasonable and well-informed. He did a workmanlike job at the Munk debate against David Frum on “Rise of Populism” despite the antics of the usual hysterics.

Melissa Jackson

8th August 2019 at 3:59 pm

To be fair to Tom; if one is on the political left then Bannon will of course look dodgy and deserving of criticism. I don’t begrudge Spiked writers that level of prejudice. It’s same as my saying the Communists are deeply dodgy due to their political ideology. It’s a bit presumptuous of me, but I would almost certainly say their positions and attitudes are poorly founded simply because that’s what I think of Communism.

Marvin Jones

4th August 2019 at 3:37 pm

Ranting about racism and inequality by people who have chosen to settle in a foreign land of laws and civilised culture, is used as tools to win excess tolerance and appeasements.

Hana Jinks

5th August 2019 at 7:53 am

Spot on.

Rod Conrad

2nd August 2019 at 5:23 pm

Trump supporters are not a bunch of backwater bigots

No they like furineers … LOL

Rod Conrad

2nd August 2019 at 5:22 pm

No that would be USA donors to right wing BS … You can’t hate a prick like Bannon who is just a puppet for wealthy donors

Melissa Jackson

8th August 2019 at 4:02 pm

No, Bannon definitely believes what he says.

I can’t say that I agree with everything, but he has a coherent world view and a vision for what he wants and these two things explain everything he says.

He has rich people who support him, but the causation is the other way around. Bannon had views and then went to find rich people that would fund him.

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Genghis Kant

1st August 2019 at 4:01 pm

To the left, ‘right-wing’ and ‘racist’ are interchangeable synonyms.

That is why right-wing denials of racism are met with incredulity, and why they think it is impossible for anyone on the left to be racist.

It also explains the bafflement that greeted the unveiling of Boris’ multi-ethnic cabinet. to the left it is too much of a contradiction of the natural order to be both a minority and right-wing.

Jim Lawrie

1st August 2019 at 11:37 am

David Lammy is not “mental”. He is a low intelligence race hustler.

Amin Readh

31st July 2019 at 10:05 pm

“The reliably mental David Lammy MP called Bannon an ‘avowed white supremacist’”

So something Lammy got right for once. You f*cking tit!

Dermod O’Reilly

1st August 2019 at 10:18 am

” You f*cking tit!”
Small wonder birth rates are declining . . .

Marvin Jones

4th August 2019 at 3:42 pm

That’s one more correct thing than he got on Mastermind. It will make you wonder what “THEY” had to use to shove this big turd up the greasy pole.

Jonnie Henly

31st July 2019 at 7:44 pm

“Bitching about the Today programme has become the commentariat’s favourite pastime”

Wow, so now even criticising the BBC is something only the evil metropolitan twitter leftists do. As we all know, right wingers never criticise the BBC ever.

Maybe for once you should stop exploding because some people wrote something on twitter you disagree with?

Ven Oods

31st July 2019 at 8:30 pm

Didn’t read like ‘exploding’ to me.
I’m happy for anyone to criticise the Beeb, and for anyone who disagrees with that criticism to argue against it.
I’m no expert on Bannon, but he’s never struck me as a latter-day Machiavelli; more an ex-Presidential advisor desperately trying to stay (or at least look) relevant.

Jerry Owen

1st August 2019 at 9:15 am

The ‘left’ right the narratives, anything outside that narrative means you are a racist fascist or nearly Hitler.. I wonder who will be the first to own that iconic title of the undiluted … ‘Hitler’ ?
Bannon plays by his own rules, he does not bend his rules to suck up or deflect attack from the enemy.
Like Trump Bannon says it exactly as he sees it, a more honest approach you cannot get like it or not. This is why the electorate are becoming more ‘populist’ they recognize honesty and truth when they see it.

Hana Jinks

1st August 2019 at 11:45 am

You aren’t qualified to troll Linda, Wattie or the brewery dude, and you certainly aren’t qualified to troll me.

I don’t get any pleasure out of trolling you apart from using the silly name.

Hana Jinks

31st July 2019 at 6:34 pm

Pom Prater.

Didn’t you guys in the office read the comments section on that tweet story? It wasn’t racist. Not in any way. It would be racist to tell Lammy to go back to where he came from, because he isn’t trolling you on racist grounds.

You classify Lammy as reliably mental. What must that make you?

This isn’t the first time that I’ve had to address you about the difficulties that you’ll encounter when attempting to propagate fake news these days. You mischaracterize Trump supporters as on the defensive. Pretty sure that most in that office find me offensive.

Marvin Jones

4th August 2019 at 3:48 pm

Right wing intellect and common sense is an essential antidote to the single cell amoeba species, such as Lammy.

Melissa Jackson

8th August 2019 at 4:04 pm

This is entirely correct.

And honestly, it’s weird that myself and other right leaning people are here at Spiked. Literally no-one in the media has any principles it seems, and Spiked is all there is.

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