An introduction to Stephen Bannon before the fame
I used to host a radio show with Steve Bannon. Yes, that Steve Bannon. It was a Catholic radio show, and we talked about life and faith and how you integrate the two. It aired weekly over the course of a number of months in 2012, and I do remember we had one political show around Election Day, in which we talked with Steve’s friend Pat Caddell (formerly of the Jimmy Carter White House) about Catholics and the political culture of both parties.
“Surreal” would seem the appropriate word as I’ve watched an array of successive news stories and commentaries about Bannon, who has become the “Darth Vader” figure of the Donald Trump administration. As one young editor in the National Review office observed to me, it seems as if Bannon couldn’t do anything at this point that wouldn’t be viewed as sinister.
The most pernicious development in this narrative is an idea recently presented in the New York Times that he’s coordinating with conservatives in the Vatican to thwart Pope Francis.
I think to take an honest look at both the American political scene and the Catholic Church is to see decades of disarray. Scandal. Confusion. Something less than courage and clarity. The good works, solid faith and stories of self-sacrificial love tend to get overshadowed by all of this.
When everything seems broken to a whole lot of people, anything but the status quo seems a very attractive alternative. And so Donald Trump was elected. Before that, a pope resigned and something new — a South American with radical ideas about love and duty to God — came on the scene. Pope Francis repeatedly talks about mercy and forgiveness, and I hope his message is resonating with people who wouldn’t otherwise give organized religion a second glance.
When I sat down in studio with Bannon, we would talk about some of the methods of living the Catholic faith in the world as it is today. My memory of the time is that it was bookheavy — we interviewed many authors and discussed heady ideas. I consciously wanted to help convey that the Church is made up of every baptized member and we’re called to show our faithfulness in the world, not just by going to Mass on Sundays. As many have noted, Bannon is concerned about a radical secularism that has become a rival religion, and small practical things play no small role in providing an alternative to it.
Before doing the show, Bannon and myself had met a few times over the course of a decade, including around a documentary he did about Sarah Palin. Like Bannon has now, Palin had become a caricature in the news. He saw a human being and tried to show a more than one-dimensional look at her and the politics she stood for.
He was also ridiculously loyal to me when I wanted to name our show “Silent Radio,” a hattip to a Pope Benedict XVI message about the need for silent contemplation and listening in the noise of the world.
Life, the dynamics of American politics and whatever the Trump administration is up to are more complicated than my memory of pleasant radio-studio hours, I certainly know.
But there may also be imperfect people trying to make things work. And we should disagree with them and protest when appropriate, but also consider saying a prayer for the common good and the human beings at the center of news stories and in the halls of power.