Earlier this week, as we discussed a few days ago, President-elect Donald Trump announced that he would be appointing Steve Bannon, the race-baiting head of Breitbart News, his chief White House strategist. And this, my friends, is something that we, as civilized people, who value things like civil rights and diversity, should do everything in our power to fight against. We just can’t afford to sit idly by and allow the man credited with bringing white nationalism into the mainstream under the banner of the “alt-right” to take a position of power in the same White House where the Emancipation Proclamation and Civil Rights Act were signed, and where, for the past eight years, our first black President has served our country with grace and dignity in the face of unrelenting racist attacks from the far right that Bannon has worked over the past half decade to empower and give voice to. This is a line that we absolutely should not cross as a nation. We simply cannot allow the man who bragged of creating “the platform for the alt-right,” to move into the White House, where he would not only have constant access to our President, but also likely establish Breitbart News as the de facto communications arm of our Executive branch. [Trump, as I’m sure you’ve seen, has broken with tradition and stopped communicating with legitimate press, and several people are speculating that we may see Breitbart News evolve as a state news agency, not unlike Pravda.]
This is the battle, I suspect, that will determine the course of our next four years, and possibly even the course of our lifetimes. If we allow them to win on this, I just don’t see how we’ll be able to stop them on anything else.
And I should state right up front that, yes, I know keeping Bannon out of the White House will be an uphill battle. As this isn’t an appointment that would require the “advice and consent” of the Senate, it’s not a situation where we would have any real, direct legislative leverage. We can’t just count on our elected Democratic representatives to filibuster, stall and obstruct on our behalf. No, we the people need to actively create so much pain for the Republicans that they have no choice but to back away from the nomination, for fear of derailing their larger legislative objectives. That means swamping their phone lines, shaming them at every opportunity for their connection to Bannon, and bombarding them on social media until they have no choice but to rescind the nomination just to make it stop.
For what it’s worth, though, it’s not hopeless. Or, at least, there’s a precedent. About seven years ago, as you might recall, the Republicans were able to successfully organize and drive Van Jones from the White House. And, in that instance, all Jones, who was Obama’s Green Jobs Czar, had done, was refer to Republicans “assholes” and suggest that now might be the time for us, as Americans, to get serious on the subject of race. And, if they can get someone forced out of the White House for that, then surely we can stop Bannon, a man who, according to Forbes, built Breitbart News into an online news company known above all else for reliably pushing stories that are “openly anti-women, anti-semetic, anti-progress, anti-immigrant, and anti-nonwhites”.
Bannon, for those of you who don’t know the history, was a Breitbart News board member when company founder Andrew Breitbart died unexpectedly of apparent heart failure in 2012. He then, at that point, moved into the role of executive chairman, where he made a name for himself by catering to white nationalists, and publishing articles with titles like “Hoist It High And Proud: The Confederate Flag Proclaims A Glorious Heritage,” which, by the way, ran just two weeks after nine people were murdered in an African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina by a confederate flag-loving white supremacist. [A former Breitbart News staffer has said that while Andrew Breitbanrt “despised racism,” all of that changed with Bannon took over and began “pushing white ethno-nationalism as a legitimate response to political correctness“.]
Some political types who I respect very much have suggested to me that a coordinated campaign against Bannon, even if successful, wouldn’t accomplish much. Bannon, they say, would still have the President’s ear, and Breitbart would still likely become the administration’s press department. While I suspect they’re right, I still can’t help but think that, all things considered, this is the correct first move in this epic chess game we’ve just started. Not only is getting Bannon our of the White House the right thing to do, but it makes good strategic sense. While I’m sure we’ll be able to build alliances to fight the Trump administration on other issues, I can’t imagine that any of them would get the same kind of support that a campaign against Bannon would get. Bannon, after all, even by conservative standards, is an abhorrent human being, and I suspect that a broad coalition could be built for the purposes of limiting his role in the administration, a coalition that could help us going forward, as we fight on other fronts. [Bannon is so bad, even Glenn Beck thinks he’s “terrifying”.]
So, with all of that said, and with all due respect to Secretary Clinton, who said in her concession speech that, “We owe (Trump) an open mind and a chance to lead,” I am 100% of the belief that we need to put everything we’ve got into stopping this, his first appointment… While it’s true that half of those who voted last week cast their ballots for Trump, they did not vote for Bannon, and I cannot help but think that several, especially those Trump supporters in the Jewish community, might be persuaded to join us in this one particular cause, given Bannon’s well-documented history of antisemitism. While it might be difficult to build coalitions around more abstract issues, like tax policy, I think this fight is relatively straightforward. A man, who, in the words of Breitbart’s former editor-at-large, Ben Shapiro, “openly embrace(s) the white supremacist alt-right,” has no place in the White House, and I’d like to think a majority of Americans would agree.
Speaking of how the Trump administration is being viewed by the wider Jewish community, I’d encourage you to read the op-ed in yesterday’s Jewish Journal, signed by dozens of prominent Jewish historians, which suggests that we have to start building alliances and begin fighting back immediately. Here, from their letter, is the section most relevant to our discussion about Bannon. “We condemn unequivocally those agitators who have ridden Trump’s coattails to propagate their toxic ideas about Jews,” they say.”More broadly, we call on all fair-minded Americans to condemn unequivocally the hateful and discriminatory language and threats that have been directed by him and his supporters against Muslims, women, Latinos, African-Americans, disabled people, LGBT people and others. Hatred of one minority leads to hatred of all. Passivity and demoralization are luxuries we cannot afford. We stand ready to wage a struggle to defend the constitutional rights and liberties of all Americans. It is not too soon to begin mobilizing in solidarity.” [It’s estimated that 24% of Jewish voters cast their ballots for Trump.]
The bottom line is that this, I believe, is not only a fight worth having, but the best strategic shot we’ve got at building a significant movement against the Trump administration. And, in my estimation, if we can’t organize for this, we’ve got absolutely no chance when it comes to fighting Trump on more specific elements of his plan to “make America great again,” like instituting mass deportation programs and creating a national registry for Muslim immigrants. And every day we sit on the sidelines, licking our wounds, successful resistance becomes a little less likely. The normalization of Bannon and what he stands for has already begun in the press, and, you can be sure, it will only get worse. And we cannot allow white nationalism to become something that is acceptable in any form. We have to tear it out by the roots immediately, and demonstrate our willingness to fight it wherever it might show itself.
Thankfully, some of our elected officials are already fighting back. Over the past few days, since the announcement of Bannon’s position was made public, a number of Democrats in Congress have come forward to urge that President-elect Trump dump Bannon. Among those to come forward and join the Dump Bannon caucus so far are Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow and Representatives John Conyers, Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, and Sander Levin, all of whom signed the so-called Cicilline letter, which “strongly urge(d)” Trump to consider the fact that he’s now a representatives of “millions of Americans from diverse backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities,” and “reconsider (his) decision.” [Video of Senator Harry Reid asking that Mr. Trump “rise to the dignity of the office” and do the right thing by rescinding the appointment of Bannon, can be found here.]
So, what can we do?
First, you can call your elected representatives and urge them to join the fight to “Dump Bannon.” [You can find the phone numbers for your elected officials here.] Call you Representative and both of you Senators. While, as I mentioned earlier, they don’t have a vote as to whether or not Bannon is appointed, they do have influence, and they should exercise that influence in this case. [You’ll find tips and strategies for how to engage with your elected officials here.] So, if you didn’t go door to door for Hillary, and now feel bad about that fact, this is something very tangible that you can do. You can call and express your anger over the appointment of Bannon to the President’s cabinet, and you can urge your friends and neighbors to do the same.
For those of you who have never called the office of an elected official, here’s a bit of advice from our friend Andy LaBarre, who used to be a staffer for John Dingell… “When you call any office,” he said, “you should simply yell.” He also advises that you keep it simple, as the people who you’ll be talking with are just keeping running tallies on what their constituents think about given issues. “When I was a Congressional staffer, some of the best calls I fielded were from folks who would lead by loudly and angrily stating: ‘No Amnesty!’,” LaBarre said, “They were the best because, right away, I knew 1. What they were calling about; 2. Their opinion on the matter; 3. Their intensity of opinion; and 4. That useful discourse wasn’t going to happen. They were efficient callers.” So keep that in mind. Be clear. Be efficient. And yell. [LaBarre also suggested that you not call Debbie Dingell, as she’s already out front on this. He suggested, instead, you call Tim Walberg’s office. Or better yet, reach out to his constituents, and have them call Walberg’s district office themselves.]
And don’t stop there. If you’re a member of a church, or any community of faith, bring people together around this issue and organize. Write letters to the editor. Put #DumpBannon signs in front of your house. Organize a #DumpBannon parade around your neighborhood. Tag you elected representatives on social media with posts about Bannon, demanding that they join the Dump Bannon Caucus, if they haven’t already. [While all of our Democratic Representatives in Michigan have come out to say that Trump should dump Bannon, I’ve yet to see any of our nine Republican Representativesn take a stand. So call Tim Walberg, Candice Miller, Fred Upton, and all the rest of them, and demand the stand up against bigotry and racial violence. And call your Democratic Reps as well, asking them to do more.] And, if you have other ideas as to how we mobilize people against Bannon, leave a comment here, and let us know. The more ideas, the better.
As for why this is important, I wanted to share the following clip with you from an article that I just read on Vox:
…For a long time, our society marginalized these hateful views by being clear that they were not normal. We all collectively understood that there were certain behaviors that were not okay, certain things that decent, civilized people in a modern society did not do to each other. Those norms are now being shattered.
When Trump ran for president, he gave these people a voice. He told them they had been stymied by “political correctness,” and it was perfectly appropriate for them to say all the things they had been told not to say. He shattered norms. Bannon, the man who ran Breitbart.com, built up its viewer base “by catering to the alt-right, a small but vocal fringe of white supremacists, anti-Semites, and Internet trolls,” (I’m quoting here from National Review, not some lefty site). He is now the top adviser to the president of the United States. Please take a minute to let that sink in.
And, I know I don’t need to tell you this, but people are already suffering the consequences of this Bannonization of America. Among other things, it’s being reported that a Muslim man was set on fire today in Houston, and, here, in Ann Arbor, a University of Michigan student was reportedly made to remove her hijab under threat of violence. These kinds of events are really happening, and they will only get worse if Bannon is accepted into the White House. If we legitimize what he stands for, it’s the end. And we cannot allow that to happen. We have to fight back against the normalization of these radical, dangerous views with everything that we’ve got. We need to stop this insanity now, before it’s too late. America, and what it stands for, is too important.