The Three Kinds of People Who Should Be Outraged by Steve Bannon

First of all, credit where credit is due: Donald Trump went on TV last night and told his supporters to “stop it,” with “it” referring to acts of violence and intimidation aimed at Latinos, Muslims, and other groups who were targeted in some ways by the campaign rhetoric. This was an important step in the right direction.

Having the nation’s most famous white supremacist praise . . . your new chief strategist is never a good sign.
Michael Austin
But, on the same day that our president-elect took this encouraging step, he announced the appointment of former Breitbart chief Stephen Bannon as the Chief White House strategist. Critics immediately pointed to Bannon’s long history of racially and culturally charged comments—about African Americans, LGBTQ people, Muslims, Jews, and even Mormons—as evidence to show that Bannon was unfit to serve in any capacity in a presidential administration.

Not everybody was upset about this choice. Former Ku Klux Klan leader and Louisiana senate candidate David Duke was over the moon. And why not? Bannon is as close a thing to a white supremacist to inhabit an important White House position in a hundred years. “I think its excellent,” Duke told CNN:

I think that anyone that helps complete the program and the policies that President-elect Trump has developed during the campaign is a very good thing, obviously. So it’s good to see that he’s sticking to the issues and the ideas that he proposed as a candidate. Now he’s president-elect and he’s sticking to it and he’s reaffirming those issues.

This statement should give all non-David-Duke Americans pause. While one can’t always be held accountable for everybody who gives one positive feedback, having the nation’s most famous white supremacist praise the ideological commitment of your new chief strategist is never a good sign. A lot of people are outraged. Even more people should be.

Those of us who opposed Trump should be outraged, and by and large we are. But we need to do it better. This is serious stuff. We have long been afraid that electing Trump might allow patent racism to slip in the back door at the White House. But it is now coming through the main gate, and that is unacceptable.

This is not a good time for schadenfreude and “I told you so-ing.” It is the time for all of the direct and indirect political action we can manage. Call and write your senators and representatives, carry signs at the White House, take all of the general angst that you have been feeling since Trump won the election, and, instead of protesting vaguely that he won, protest specifically that he will reverse this shocking appointment.

Conservatives and Trump supporters should be even more outraged than liberals and #nevertrumpers. Anyone who was disturbed by some of Trump’s racial comments but voted for him anyway—because of the Supreme Court or because you wanted to drain the swamp, or just because Hillary Clinton seemed worse—needs to take a moment to reclaim the candidate that they voted for and not the one who caused them to hold their noses while they did so.

Hold your candidate accountable for the trust you placed in him not to do stuff like this.
Michael Austin
If you voted for Trump for any reason, chances are you have had to defend your candidate, and your vote, from charges of racism. Don’t let that defense become invalid by allowing the charge to become true even before the new term starts. Don’t allow President Trump’s political strategy, which is also your political strategy, to be set by a white nationalist–or worse. This is your chance to prove people like me wrong. Hold your candidate accountable for the trust you placed in him not to do stuff like this.

But the people that should be the most upset about the elevation of the Breitbart news chief to the White House staff are those across the political spectrum who think that civil discourse matters. The IVN news platform, which I have supported for years, relies on a simple etiquette of respect and civility. The Breitbart news model does not. The record is there for everybody to see, and it is not pretty. Under Stephen Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart became a news source that relied on insulting and belittling arguments, the delegitimation of opposing points of view, and the angry denunciation of any other position’s right to exist–precisely what IVN was founded not to be.

A lot of people have pointed out that, after a bitter election like the one we just experienced, the nation needs to come together and heal. President-elect Trump himself has made this argument, as has Secretary Clinton. And to a point I agree. I am as anxious to heal as anybody else. But “come together and heal” is not and cannot be the same as thing as “accept the unacceptable in the name of harmony.” And I believe that Stephen Bannon in the White House is unacceptable.

And its not just me. The appointment of an intentionally divisive ultra-nationalist to the White House staff should be unacceptable to a broad spectrum of Americans. Let us come together and use all of the tools of peaceful political persuasion at our disposal to encourage our president-elect to seek out the better angels of his nature.