An in­tro­duc­tion to Stephen Ban­non be­fore the fame

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION - Colum­nist

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.

Kathryn Lopez

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