The past several months have been difficult for Steve Bannon, the disheveled, wannabe Machiavelli of American politics. Late last summer he was unceremoniously fired from his senior post in the Trump White House, then the candidate he backed in the Alabama special Senate election suffered a historic defeat under the weight of credible reports of sexual assault, and then he was evicted from his chairmanship of Breitbart News. All throughout the long, dark winter he was relentlessly mocked and jabbed by opponents and erstwhile allies alike, including President Donald Trump, who rechristened him “Sloppy Steve” and blamed him for the Senate loss in Alabama.
But now it’s springtime for Bannon, and he’s plotting a comeback. Undaunted by his manifold defeats and humiliations, Bannon is looking to prove once and for all that a whack job extremist -- no matter how disgraced or putrefied by white supremacist politics -- can still command the attention and respect of America’s elite.
Next week, Bannon will be one of the keynote interviewees at a Financial Times forum on “Trust, Technology and Transformation in an Age of Upheaval.” He’ll be appearing alongside some of the biggest names in news media: New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, CNN President Jeff Zucker, HuffPost Editor-in-Chief Lydia Polgreen, and others. Per the Financial Times’ description of the event, lucky attendees will get to “hear insights from owners/editors of traditional media on how they are dealing with digital disruption.”
Earlier this month, the very same Steve Bannon was in the middle of a goodwill tour of Europe’s repugnant far-right political parties. Having stumbled in his efforts to lead an American political movement devoted to white resentment and xenophobia, Bannon hopped across the Atlantic to have a spirited wallow in the rising bog of European ethnonationalism.
In Italy, Bannon showed up just ahead of the country’s latest round of elections reportedly to support the far-right League party and its leader, Matteo Salvini. The League and Salvini are noxiously anti-immigrant and often openly bigoted -- Salvini campaigned on mass deportation of African migrants, advocates the “controlled ethnic cleansing” of Italian cities, and has called for segregation of public transportation. During a speech in France on March 10, Bannon referred to him as “Brother Salvini.”
That speech was delivered before a gathering of the National Front, France’s premier far-right, xenophobic political party. The National Front has been trying to worm into the mainstream of French politics by carefully distancing itself from the blunt racism and winking Holocaust denial of its founders. The modern National Front employs more guarded language and PR savvy while blending aggressive nationalism with hostility toward immigrants, Muslim immigrants in particular. Party leader Marine Le Pen, who has masterminded the reformation of the National Front’s image, still sometimes lets the mask slip, like when she compared public demonstrations of faith by Muslims to the Nazi occupation of France. Bannon was happily at home among the party faithful, telling them to embrace accusations of racism and xenophobia as “a badge of honor.”
This is who Steve Bannon is hanging out with these days, and these are the people whose influence he’s trying to borrow in order to mount some sort of comeback. And he, of course, has every right to choose “hero of European racists” as his next career move, although one could argue that it’s really the only place he has left to go after being excommunicated by Trump and Breitbart following the Alabama fiasco.
But it’s scummy and gross that Bannon, after declaring common cause with bigoted political movements in Europe, can head back to the United States and have the welcome mat laid out for him by the country’s media elite. I’m not even sure what insights the Financial Times forum expects to glean from Bannon. As a media executive he was a fraud and a failure -- when he wasn’t using Breitbart.com as his personal PR service, he deployed its resources to (ineptly) bolster the sagging fortunes of the lunatic candidates he picked as the vanguard for his political movement. He vilifies all media outlets that aren’t servile to the president, and he spins wild conspiracy theories about secret plots between journalists and politicians to sabotage his preferred candidates.
Steve Bannon is drifting deeper into the fringes as he grasps for relevance. He has done seemingly everything in his power to forfeit his credibility and render himself toxic, and he's still afforded elite deference despite being an extremist crank.