"I don't want anybody to take their eye off the ball for what we do every day... We're taking down the Biden regime."Stephen K. Bannon speaking to reporters as he turned himself over to federal authorities for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena to testify on Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the U.S. Capitol, on Nov. 15, 2021. ( gnews.org/1667935/ . )
No matter how tempting it is for us to dismiss Bannon's political theater as the antics of a trickster or court jester, we must take his threats seriously. For years, and long before he was connected to Donald Trump, Bannon has been cultivating his agendaand it is one that we, as Catholic voters, should understand. Bannon means to take down what he judges to be "the establishment" in all of its entrenched forms, including our elected governments, if need be.
Here's Bannon in an interview with Michael Wolff, just after the 2016 election: "Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power. It only helps us when they get it wrong. When they're blind to who we are and what we're doing." (Hollywood Reporter, Nov. 18, 2016)
Wolff interprets the "they" in this Bannon utterance to mean "liberals." To me, Bannon is saying that "liberals" don't seem to understand the nature of power: how to get it, how to keep it, how to use it. And, that heBannon does. Granted, and with hindsight, the Democrats may have squandered the first two years of the Obama presidency when they had power: control of both houses of Congress and a popular mandate for changea change that never happened. To give "the Dark One" his due, as Donald Trump's chief campaign strategist, Bannon did help get Trump elected president. And, as chief strategist and senior counselor to President Trump, Bannon was arguably the most influential member of the White House teamuntil he was cast out by Trump in 2017, a not-uncommon fate to Trump enablers.
So, what is the Bannon Agenda? How blind are we as voterswhether we are 'liberals' or notto who Bannon and his allies are and to what they are doing?
In another interview, this one with Ronald Radosh of the Daily Beast in August 2016, Bannon said: "I'm a Leninist. ... Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that's my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment."
Are these the utterances of an enfant terrible; an idiot savant; an agent provocateur; or an adroit practitioner of rhetorical, guerrilla, political theater? Is it possible that Harvard-trained Bannon does not know that Lenin's "Bolshevik dictatorship of the proletariat" created the most efficient killer totalitarian state ever inflicted upon the human race?
Before joining the Trump team, Bannon was an executive with Breitbart News in which Bannon himself described as a platform for alternative right-wing politics at odds with the neo-cons, the establishment Republican Party and such traditional conservatives as George F. Will, William Kristol and David Brooksall part of the political structures Bannon wants to destroy.
In 2014, Bannon delivered a Skype address to a conference held in Vatican City by the conservative Catholic Institute for Human Dignity. In this address, he most clearly presents the Bannon Agenda ( www.buzzfeednews.com/article/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world&; in which he:
champions "true" capitalism over the crony capitalism of the current U.S. power/money elite, over the kleptocracy-capitalism of Russia, over the totalitarian-state capitalism of China and over the Davos capitalism of the global elite;
urges war against jihadist Islamic fascism;
argues for a class-based, populist insurrection of the ruined working classes and about-to-be ruined middle classes of the United States and Europe against the globalist power elite; and
calls for a recommitment to the Judaeo-Christian values that made the West great and that are now being destroyed by corrupted capitalism, uncontrolled immigration, and totalitarian, theocratic Islam.
Some of the economic and social issues of this Agenda deserve appropriate discussion. Michael John Novak, the conservative Catholic political thinker, who died in 2017, wrote in-depth on several of these key matters. Bannon and Novak share a critique of capitalism and concern for the welfare and integrity of working and middle-classes based in Catholic social justice teaching. Where they differ is significant, however: Novak tried to understand and propose practicable remedies in keeping with the core values of our civilization and Catholic principles, while Bannon seems preoccupied with the destruction of the status quo.
In a 2017 YouTube interview with Keith Koffler, author of Bannon: Always the Rebel, Bannon rejects all moderation and compromise, asserting that, in our time, such politics are not possiblewe are all forced into radical positions and must choose sides.
With this either/or mindset, Bannon seems to be willing to tolerate racist, anti-Semitic, and anti-LGBTQIA rhetoric and actions among those who rally to his flag, asserting that these 'aberrations' will fade away as his Agenda begins to operate in the political arena. Bannon is simply too smart an observer of history to not understand the ugly precedents to our contemporary US populist insurrection.
The Nazi Party was able to take control of Germany in 1933 with less than a majority of the voting citizenry. This takeover was enabled, it must be noted, by the support of the Catholic-based Centre Party which voted for the Enabling Act of 1933 which gave Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers. The Catholic center co-operated with this Nazi takeover out of fear of godless communism, of general anarchy, and out of the vain belief that those ugly forces could be controlled.
Whether Bannon himself is a racist or a fascist is a moot point because his rhetoricespecially aimed at Catholic working and middle-class constituenciesechoes the populist fury and hate so evident in the social and political preachings of Fr. Charles Coughlin (died 1979).
Coughlin established a political organization, the National Union for Social Justice (1934), to promote social policies typical of fascist regimes. He used his immensely popular radio program to broadcast anti-semitic tirades against bankers and the money elite, often equating Jews with Communism as well as international bankers.
Catholic Archbishop of Brooklyn Thomas Molloy (who died Nov. 26, 1956 ) gave Coughlin significant support. His diocesan newspaper, The Tablet, responded to the charge that the Christian front was anti-Semitic with this statement: "Well what of it? Just what law was violated ? " (Dinnerstein, Antisemitism in America, Oxford University Press, 1994, 121-22 )
Coughlin even gave, at times, support to the social policies of Adolf Hitler, who actually endorsed him in a speech in 1936.
Coughlin used the banner and theme of social justice to present his positions which attracted significant Catholic support. In the May 23, 1938, edition of his newspaper, Social Justice, Coughlin called for a crusade against the anti-Christian forces of the Red Revolution ( See: Charles Gallagher, Nazis of Copley Square: The Forgotten Story of the Christian Front, Harvard University Press, 2021)
We hear echoes of this rhetoric today. Commenting on Bannon's selection by the Institute for Human Dignity as a consultant in the formation of their programs, prominent Vatican conservative Cardinal Raymond Burke indicated Bannon was chosen "to promote a number of projects that should make a decisive contribution to the defense of what used to be called ChristendomSept. 14, 2018, Reuters, Mark Hosenball." Burke has since distanced himself from Bannon's agenda and the Institute.
Because Bannon believes we must first destroy before we can rebuild, he does not shy away from pushing the trigger points that enflame passions in the Catholic body politic. He deftly uses anti-abortion, -gay, -migrant, -Islamic, -Washington, -elitist, -globalist and, yes, even -Pope Francis rhetoric to stir popular fury and focus that rage on all the symbols of the establishment. He really seems to believe he can ride all the negative forces to some kind of good outcome.
His alignment with the anti-Francis Catholics, in and outside of the Vatican, provides Bannon with a type of shield: It allows him to use homosexuality and other sexual issues, in addition to abortion, to divide the Catholic hierarchy as well as the Catholic rank and file. The conflation of homosexuality with pederasty and other forms of Catholic clergy sexual abuse greatly assist his efforts to weaponize elements of the Catholic Church for the upcoming apocalyptic struggles.
Bannon's vision of a worker and middle-class-based Republican party should not be dismissed. And, the Catholic roots of this vision are stunningly clear both in our US election history and in Catholic social movements. Yesterday's Reagan Democratsand even perhaps Kennedy Democratscan easily become today's Bannon Republicans: They are socially and culturally conservative; instinctively against the overreach of "big" government; suspicious of an arrogant intellectual class; resentful of big banks; and supportive of the theory that Democrats have forgotten the "little" people who are the backbone of our country.
The fact that Bannon can, at one and the same time, promote inhumane immigration policies and still maintain the rhetoric of social justice underlies the depth of the divisions in the U.S. Catholic body politic.
Polarized political and social contexts rarely produce benign change let alone true progress. Civil society cannot survive in such an atmosphere of partisan hatred. Catholic voters must not cooperate with ideologies so hostile to the spirit of the Gospels and authentic Catholic intellectual traditionsideologies which in the long run will not work for their good or the good of their country.
Catholic social-justice traditions, as lived and practiced by anti-Vietnam War activists Dorothy Day and Daniel Berrigan, reject all forms of violence, racism and partisan hatred. The Catholic social justice traditions as lived by farm-worker organizer Cesar Chavez as well as Chicago activists Jack Egan and Peggy Roach, and many, many other U.S. Catholics stand for the values and principles of a just, civil society.
The agenda of Francis and commitment to Jesus is not about the defense of Christendom; it is about nourishing the reign of God in our hearts.
Bannon keeps sending us the signals, including this latest one on Twitter on Nov. 16, 2021 :
"We've got the Hispanics coming on our side, African Americans coming on our side, we're taking down the Biden regime. [...] I want you guys to stay focused, stay on message. Remember, signal not noise. This is all noise."
Are we getting the message?
Nick Patricca is professor emeritus at Loyola University Chicago, playwright emeritus at Victory Gardens Theater, and a member of Freedom to Write Committee and PEN International.
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