Earlier this week in “‘Fuck The Facts!’: What Donald Trump Learned From Big Tobacco,” I detailed the series of events that coincided with the genesis of the new President’s campaign for the White House.
As I explained, the events that unfolded in Europe during late 2015 provided the perfect backdrop and allowed Trump’s message to resonate more than it otherwise would have with the American electorate. Here’s how I explained it:
By the time Trump delivered the infamous opening salvo (you know, the “they’re bringing drugs, they’re rapists” speech) of what would ultimately become a successful bid for the White House, it was readily apparent that Russia was about to step into Syria’s then four-year-old civil war.
Qassem Soleimani, a shadowy Iranian general known in intelligence circles as one of the most dangerous men on the planet (and the closest thing you’ll find to a real-life version of Kevin Spacey’s Keyser Söze) had recently visited Syria and hinted at “surprises” that could soon change the course of the conflict. Sure enough, in late September, 2015, the Russians began flying combat sorties from Latakia.
Moscow’s involvement exacerbated an already horrific scenario. As the Kremlin’s Sukhois tore apart Assad’s rivals and Hezbollah pushed towards Aleppo, everyday Syrians poured into Western Europe via the so-called “Balkan route.” That touched off border battles between Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, and Austria, all of which were inundated with refugees en route to the German promised land where Angela Merkel had pledged to keep the doors open to those fleeing violence.
Before long, the Right-wing blogosphere was abuzz with reports of crimes committed by “out of control” Muslim refugees who, to let Breitbart and its progeny tell it, were running amok, raping and pillaging Viking-style all thanks to Angela Merkel and her “misguided” open door policy.
The attacks in Paris only served to validate that narrative – the Friday night massacre orchestrated by Abdelhamid Abaaoud at the behest of the Islamic State was pitched as confirmatory evidence of the fiction being promulgated in the dark corners of the far-Right web.
All of this provided the perfect backdrop against which to cast America’s immigrant “problem.” It was also an ideal setup for anyone seeking to capitalize politically off the fears (irrational or otherwise) of the electorate. Just like that, populism was resurgent. The drumbeat of nationalism grew louder. Brexit became reality. Donald Trump became President. And, in the final act of the first populist play, Steve Bannon – the man whose media outlet perpetuated the entire narrative from the beginning – was named Chief Strategist to the leader of the (previously) free world.
That’s as accurate a description of what happened as you’ll find anywhere on the web. I lived and breathed that narrative as it unfolded and documented it in real-time. Bannon’s fingerprints were all over it from the beginning.
Well, Politico is out with a new piece (which you really should read in full) entitled “The Man Who Wants To Unmake The West.” Below, find excerpts from the post which explains at length how “Europeans are starting to worry that Steve Bannon has the EU in his cross hairs.”
It was the day after Britain voted to leave the European Union in June, and the Western world was still absorbing the shock. With no clear plan for what would come next, the globe’s fifth-biggest economy had abruptly announced a divorce from the neighbors it had been trading with for nearly 45 years. Markets plunged. “A calamity,” declared the New York Times. “Global panic,” proclaimed one London headline.
Steve Bannon had a different reaction. He booked the calamity’s chief architect as a guest on his radio show to celebrate.
This was then still weeks before Bannon emerged into the national spotlight as CEO of Donald Trump’s struggling presidential campaign. Bannon was an executive at Breitbart News, an activist-editor-gadfly known mostly on the far right, and the “Brexit” campaign was something of a pet project. He hitched onto the Tea Party movement early in Barack Obama’s presidency and noticed a similar right-populist wave rising across the Atlantic, where fed-up rural, white Britons were anxious about immigration and resentful of EU bureaucrats. The cause touched on some of Bannon’s deepest beliefs, including nationalism, Judeo-Christian identity and the evils of Big Government. In early 2014, Bannon launched a London outpost of Breitbart, opening what he called a new front “in our current cultural and political war.” The site promptly began pointing its knives at the EU, with headlines like “The EU Is Dead, It Just Refuses to Lie Down”; “The European Union’s Response to Terrorism Is a Massive Privacy Power Grab”; “Pressure on Member States to Embrace Trans Ideology.” One 2014 article invited readers to vote in a poll among “the most annoying European Union rules.”
Bannon’s site quickly became tightly entangled with the United Kingdom Independence Party, a fringe movement with the then-outlandish goal of Britain’s exit from the EU. In October 2014, UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, poached a Breitbart London editor to work for him. That September, Bannon hosted a dinner for Farage at his Capitol Hill townhouse. Standing under a large oil painting by the fireplace, Farage delivered a speech that left the dozens of conservative leaders in attendance “blown away,” as Bannon later recalled.
On June 23 of last year, Britons defied the pleas of Europe’s political elites and narrowly voted for Brexit. Many observers called it the most traumatic event in the history of a union whose origins date to the 1950s. Suddenly the future of all Europe, whose unity America had spent the decades since World War II cultivating, lay in doubt. It was the next day that Bannon hosted Farage for a triumphal edition of his daily radio show.
“The European Union project has failed,” Farage declared. “It is doomed, I’m pleased to say.”
“It’s a great accomplishment,” Bannon said. “Congratulations.”
Bannon now works in the West Wing as President Donald Trump’s top political adviser. He is, by all accounts, the brains of Trump’s operation—a history-obsessed global thinker whose vision extends far beyond Trump’s domestic agenda and Rust Belt base. Bannon co-wrote Trump’s “America First” inauguration speech, which hinted at a new world order, and will join the president’s National Security Council—apparently the first political adviser to get a permanent seat in the president’s Situation Room. And while commentators are focusing on Bannon’s views about nationalism here in the United States, his public comments and interviews with several people who know him make clear that, even as he helps Trump “make America great again,” he has his sights set on a bigger target across the Atlantic Ocean.
The idea that one man could threaten the European project might sound extreme. And it would be an exaggeration to say that even the full-throated support of Breitbart London was what tipped the scales toward Brexit. But having the ear of the president of the United States is different—and the question of just what Bannon plans to do with his influence has become a huge preoccupation of diplomats, European government officials and experts on the venerable trans-Atlantic relationship. In more than a dozen interviews, they recounted a creeping sense of dread about the very specific ways Bannon could use American power like a crowbar to pull the EU apart.
“The European Union is under serious threat,” Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister and now a senior EU official, told a London audience in late January. Its enemies, he said, now include Trump—thanks in large part to “the enormous influence of his chief political adviser, Mr. Bannon.”
Once again, you’re encouraged to read the piece in its entirety, but I also wanted to excerpt the following visual that occupies the sidebar of the Politico post. The names will be familiar to HR readers.
The “usual suspects”…