Guess who’s com­ing to the White House

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Kath­leen Parker’s email ad­dress is kath­leen­parker@ wash­

If you’d never heard of Steve Ban­non be­fore Tues­day, you have now.

All the world is sud­denly abuzz with news that Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump has named Ban­non, for­merly ex­ec­u­tive chair­man at the right-wing web­site Bre­it­bart News, as his chief White House strate­gist and se­nior coun­selor.

Alt-right “con­ser­va­tives” and white su­prem­a­cists are ju­bi­lant; the rest of the world, in­clud­ing many Repub­li­cans, is nearly apoplec­tic. Even Glenn Beck, who seems fi­nally to have found the right meds, says Ban­non is a “night­mare” and once com­pared him to Nazi pro­pa­gan­dist Joseph Goebbels. Suf­fice it to say, there’s no love lost be­tween Beck and the Bre­it­bart Boys.

Be­tween such vir­u­lent re­ac­tions and se­lec­tive quotes from Ban­non’s body of work, in­clud­ing a Sir­ius XM ra­dio show that im­me­di­ately pre­ceded Beck’s, a Ban­non nar­ra­tive has emerged: He’s a racist, xeno­pho­bic, misog­y­nist, anti-Semitic na­tion­al­ist — very much, in other words, like his boss, the soon-to-be pres­i­dent of the United States. If true. Al­ready, some re­porters seem to be back­ing away from such spe­cific and ex­plicit char­ac­ter­i­za­tions, not­ing that it’s un­clear whether Ban­non him­self is all of these things or whether his as­so­ci­a­tion with those who are via Bre­it­bart post­ings in­fer­en­tially makes him so.

It’s an in­ter­est­ing dif­fer­ence with a pos­si­ble dis­tinc­tion.

I’ve never met Ban­non. If he’s charm­ing, his ap­par­ent ef­forts to con­ceal it are ef­fec­tive. Pho­tos of him show a di­sheveled, shaggy-haired man in need of a shave who ap­pears to have slept in his clothes, pos­si­bly on a side­walk grate.

Not that we should judge peo­ple by their looks, but we do — un­til there’s rea­son not to. Thus far, ex­cept for a few nar­ra­tive-af­firm­ing anec­dotes by peo­ple who claim bad ex­pe­ri­ences with him — and re­sume items that pro­voke cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance — Ban­non is in­scrutable.

The op­er­a­tive ques­tion for any think­ing per­son is: If Ban­non is any of those things men­tioned above, what would it mean for the coun­try, our poli­cies, the na­tion’s tem­per­a­ment and that most sa­cred of Amer­i­can pur­suits — unity?

As chil­dren walk out of schools and pro­test­ers stage daily ral­lies, while women plot to march on Washington the day af­ter In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, unity seems an im­prob­a­ble goal.

But what if Ban­non isn’t all those things? Are we even al­lowed to won­der? Once a nar­ra­tive is launched, it’s nearly hereti­cal to ques­tion it.

I’m not de­fend­ing; I’m just ask­ing. Is it pos­si­ble to al­low white su­prem­a­cists and woman-haters to traf­fic on your web­site and still be con­sid­ered something less aw­ful? I asked a few peo­ple who have known him well for some time if there’s more to Ban­non than meets the eye. There usu­ally is, isn’t there?

A few words used to de­scribe him, ir­re­spec­tive of his web­site’s fan club or the vir­tual com­pany he keeps, in­clude: “gen­tle­man,” “strate­gist,” “al­ways po­lite,” “bril­liant,” “fighter,” “ac­tivist,” “ar­tic­u­late,” as well as “I don’t trust him.”

One per­son who has known and worked with him the past 15 years said that when she reads about Ban­non in the news­pa­per, she thinks she must be read­ing about some­one else. “He was never like that with me. I only knew him to be a pas­sion­ate fighter. He’s all about free­dom.” Con­sti­tu­tion­ally speak­ing, ac­cord­ing to orig­i­nal in­tent, she clar­i­fied.

In the re­sume col­umn, Ban­non is a for­mer Gold­man Sachs banker who holds an MBA from Har­vard. He’s also a doc­u­men­tar­ian with eight films — some would say right-wing pro­pa­ganda movies — to his credit, in­clud­ing one about Ron­ald Rea­gan con­fronting com­mu­nism, “In the Face of Evil,” that high­lights the mark­ers of to­tal­i­tar­ian states, chiefly the re­pres­sion of free speech (he should know?) and re­li­gion. An­other was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with its sub­ject, Sarah Palin, to re­brand her fol­low­ing her tragic ex­pe­ri­ence in the na­tional spot­light.

Ban­non, who is Catholic, is ar­dent about re­li­gious liberty, as Trump has promised to be. But Trump has also promised to clamp down on the me­dia, which would have to in­clude Bre­it­bart, which in­vites the worst sorts of ex­pres­sion. One re­cent head­line that has women rip­ping their hair out: “Birth Con­trol Makes Women Unattrac­tive and Crazy.” They should prob­a­bly have read the story, which was a cheeky dis­ser­ta­tion by Bri­tish jour­nal­ist Milo Yiannopou­los, a self-pro­claimed “dan­ger­ous fag­got,” who, among other things, is never to be taken se­ri­ously.

Ban­non may or may not be like “Bre­it­bart peo­ple,” but he has been will­ing to strate­gi­cally en­cour­age peo­ple’s hate as a way of in­cit­ing them to ac­tion. How these meth­ods will man­i­fest them­selves in the White House re­mains to be seen. But we can un­com­fort­ably imag­ine that Trump un­der Ban­non’s di­rec­tion will do what­ever it takes to get what he wants.

Good luck, every­body.

Kath­leen Parker Colum­nist

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