The appointment of Steve Bannon to a top post in Trump’s White House has, to put it mildly, raised concerns: the former Breitbart news head is credited with transforming Andrew Breitbart’s already problematic site into an unapologetically sexist, racist and xenophobic platform, which such informative offerings as, “Hoist It High and Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims a Glorious Heritage” and “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy” and “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.”
Various Republicans and members of Trump’s transition team have tried to tamp down fears about Bannon occupying a key post in the next presidential administration. Here are five of the least convincing.
1. Reince Priebus, who seems to be under the impression that his influence on the President will be equal to Bannon’s (in fact, as New York Times reported, the Trump team put Bannon’s name above Priebus’s in the official statement) defended the pick on NBC’s “Today” show, arguing that since Bannon’s name wasn’t on the offending material, he’s not responsible for the stories.
Priebus then embarked on a wonderfully elitist explanation for why Bannon couldn’t possibly agree with those sentiments, because he had gone to Harvard.
“The guy I know is a guy sitting in an office all day yesterday, talking about hiring and in the last few months, this is a guy who has exhibited none of those qualities. Here’s a guy who’s Harvard Business School, he was a 10-year naval officer, London School of Economics, I believe,” the RNC chair told the “Today” show. He is a guy who is very, very smart, very temperate.”
So, no big deal, he’s just a smart and temperate guy willing to pump out sexist, racist and xenophobic propaganda to rile up the actual sexists, racists and xenophobes.
2. Trump spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway also assured the public that Bannon was a good choice because he went to Harvard and also worked at that famous bastion of progressivism, Goldman Sachs.
“People should look at the full resume,” Conway told reporters at Trump tower, according to Politico. “He has got a Harvard business degree. He’s a naval officer. He has success in entertainment. I don’t know if you’re aware of that. And he certainly was a Goldman Sachs managing partner. Brilliant tactician.”
The mere thought that Bannon is associated with the ideology of the alt-right left Conway “personally offended,” she told reporters.
In an odd showing of her confidence in Bannon’s belief system, Conway announced Tuesday that he would not be doing interviews, Politico reports. “Not everybody wants to be a public face,” she said. “Not everybody is asked to do that on behalf of president-elect.”
3. Newt Gingrich also discounted the link between anti-semitic elements of the “alt-right” and Bannon. The former speaker, likely jockeying for a position in the new administration, displayed his subtle understanding of anti-semitism by pointing to Bannon’s work in Hollywood.
“He was a managing partner of Goldman Sachs. He was a Hollywood movie producer. You know, the idea that somehow he represents ― I had never heard of the alt-right until the nutcakes started writing about it,” he told CBS’ Face the Nation.
There’s some interesting reasoning: deeming reporters who write about the alt-right movement “nutcakes” as a way to defend a man who actively embraced the label.
4. When CBS asked Trump spokesman Jason Miller about Bannon’s link to the alt-right, he also flatly denied a connection that Bannon himself has made.
“Nothing could be further from the truth…he’s worked with people of all backgrounds and has embraced diversity throughout his career,” he told the network. Perhaps it’s true that Bannon has worked with people of different backgrounds—it is 2016 in America, you kind of have to do that—but it doesn’t change the fact that he has boasted about his role in advancing the alt-right, as Mother Jones has reported.
5. Radio host Mark Levin was outraged that anyone could even consider Bannon’s association to anti-semitic elements. Why would anyone question the ideology of a man whose appointment to a top White House post has delighted the KKK and the American Nazi party? After all, Bannon has deigned to work with and be in the same room with Jewish people, Levin points out.
“He’s in partnership over there at Breitbart, the guy he has a partnership with, he’s a Jew. He’s been all Trump, pretty much, even though they pretended for Cruz, but he’s been all Trump, and Trump’s son-in-law’s an Orthodox Jew. Ivanka Trump converted to Orthodox Judaism” ran a post about Levin’s comments on Breitbart.com in defense of their former boss.
“Now, it is true that this alt-right crowd, which I find repulsive, repulsive, has white supremacist leanings and white supremacists in it. I am unaware that Bannon and the rest are part of that movement. It’s not the same thing as the populist movement.”
Regardless of Bannon’s true, personal belief system—which is ultimately unknowable—it’s absurd to deny that he helped nurture an alt-right movement and that his appointment normalizes anti-semitism, racism, sexism and xenophobia. His refusal to speak with reporters might be a genuine desire to keep out of the spotlight, as Conway claims. But it’s not exactly reassuring, and also conveniently doubles as a way to avoid being put in a position where he’d have to denounce a movement that the Trump White House may want to tap into in the future.