#PresidentBannon: Is Steve Bannon calling the shots in Donald Trump's White House?

From the fury of the inaugural speech to the chaos of the immigration ban, many people see former Breitbart publisher Steve Bannon's fingerprints all over the Trump White House. Bannon, who once said he wants to destroy the state and "bring everything crashing down" may now be the most powerful person in the Trump administration. Law professor Lawrence Douglas says that's reason to worry.
Pia Guerra's cartoon of U.S. President Donald Trump, seated in the lap of his Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, went viral this week. (Pia Guerra)

Time magazine did not select Donald Trump for its most recent cover.

Editors decided the face of Steve Bannon, President Trump's chief strategist, was a more appropriate image for the week after Trump signed his executive order on immigration, bringing chaos to American airports.

Steve Bannon co-authored that order, oversaw the roll-out that by-passed the Department of Homeland Security, and intervened when DHS tried to clarify whether Green Card holders were included in the ban.  

What followed — live news feeds from airports, impromptu protests, a shocking sense of confusion and upheaval — may have been precisely what Bannon was hoping for.

"Lenin wanted to destroy the state and that's my goal too," Bannon is reported to have told journalist Ronald Radosh in 2013. "I want to bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today's establishment."

U.S. President Donald Trump's appointment of Steve Bannon as his political strategist led to protests, alleging Trump's association the with alt-right, neo-nationalist and white supremacist movement to whom Bannon appealed as the head of Breitbart. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)


From provocateur to policy maker

Bannon would probably avoid comparing himself to Lenin now that he's a key figure in the Oval Office and a principal of the National Security Council. But the messy strategy attached to the immigration order was likely meant as a jolt to the establishment.

"I do think that he was trying to deliver a shock to the system," Lawrence Douglas told me on CBC Day 6.

Douglas is a law professor at Amherst College, where he teaches a course on the meaning of catastrophe. Douglas has written that, "Bannon may just be the most dangerous man in America."

But Douglas says we should be careful not to conflate the incendiary rhetoric of Bannon's Breitbart-era pronouncements with the strategies he's developing for the Trump administration.  

"I don't think he's someone who is really trying to bring down the American state. On the other hand, I think this is an extraordinary person. This is not a conservative by any stretch of the imagination. This guy is radical. So even though I don't necessarily see him as the second coming of Lenin, I do think we have a really quite radical vision that's exercising a lot of power in the White House."

Bannon's more radical pronouncements, which predate his dramatic ascension, are now getting a second look. In March of 2016, Bannon said on Breitbart radio: "We're going to war in the South China Sea in five to 10 years aren't we? There's no doubt about that."

Former Breitbart News chair Steve Bannon is widely regarded as U.S. President Donald Trump's right hand man calling the shots in the Oval Office. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

"He's obviously not making that same statement in his official capacity as a chief adviser in the White House," Douglas says.

But Douglas does see a coherent ideology.

"That ideology seems to see that America is under attack. It's all part of this anti-globalisation vision. [From Bannon's perspective,] the threats of globalization come both in the form of threats to our jobs from China and it comes from threats from foreigners, these immigrants who are pouring into our country either legally or illegally. Both of them now constitute threats in the contemporary parlance."


The populist meets the apocalyptic

Trump's inaugural address, reportedly written by Bannon, was shocking to so many because of the tone. Populist sentiment was choked out by a dark and apocalyptic vision of America.  Douglas says that in Bannon's ideology, those ominous currents run deep.

"Sometimes he's talking about a clash of civilizations between Islam and Judeo-Christianity and then other times it really does seem to be this almost kind of apocalyptic vision of this clash of civilization."

Douglas says Bannon's commitment to these ideas set him apart from Trump.

"Steve Bannon has a very coherent ideology. I do not believe that President Trump has a coherent ideology. But there's a kind of kinship of spirit among the two."

The question is, how much of Bannon's ideology will make its way into the policies pushed by the Trump White House.

"You know," says Douglas, "It's hard for me to exactly predict because, I mean, I think we do have to bear in mind that this guy is a provocateur. He is someone who likes to disrupt things."

This week, as Bannon's role at the White House landed him on the cover of Time and led some to suggest he is the de facto president, I wondered if the relationship between Bannon and Trump could endure. Would the president resent the power attributed to his chief strategist?

Douglas says, iIt does seem, from everything we've seen, that he [Trump] is quite a narcissist who likes very much the limelight for himself. So it is possible that all this attention being directed toward Bannon will not sit well with President Trump."

"But, on the other hand, it does seem to also be the case that Trump is a bit of the salesman and Bannon is the one working behind the scenes tirelessly. They both are workaholics. There's no doubt about that."

"And Bannon — as opposed to the president, who seems to be quite easily distracted and quite undisciplined — Bannon seems very disciplined, very focused and very ideological."