Palace intrigue about the fate of Steve Bannon misses the point: Donald Trump is the one who embraced white supremacy and hate, long before he brought Bannon on board.
Speculation about the fate of White House advisor Steve Bannon, as he feuds with Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, is filled with gossip and palace intrigue. But even if Bannon is ousted from the White House, the specter of racist white nationalism will continue to haunt Donald Trump.
Though Bannon built the conservative Breitbart site into a platform for the so-called “alt-right” flavor of white nationalism, Trump was cultivating and engaging white supremacists long before Bannon joined his campaign in August of 2016.
Trump launched his campaign attacking Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” using language and demagoguery from conservative author Ann Coulter, whose book “Adios, America” — a collection of screeds and ideas sourced to nativist and anti-immigrant groups — was also promoted by Trump.
Trump’s embrace of these positions earned him the support of virulent racist and former KKK leader David Duke. Long before Bannon came on the scene, Trump was telegraphing acceptance of white nationalist thinking, by being coy about condemning Duke’s support, which Trump had to be repeatedly pressed about in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
Indeed, the campaign was a succession of moments intermingled with the racist white supremacist movement.
Trump chose a white supremacist as a convention delegate; a white supremacist radio show was given credentials from the Republican Convention, where they broadcast from the floor and did interviews with campaign officials; and Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., gave an interview to a white supremacist.
On Twitter, Trump repeatedly amplified the work of white nationalists. Back in November of 2015, Trump pushed a racist meme that falsely claimed 81 percent of white murder victims were killed by Blacks. He also retweeted an account with the username “whitegenocidetm” and another anti-Semitic Twitter account, among others. In one sample week, 62 percent of the people that Trump promoted through his account turned out to be followers of multiple anti-Semitic accounts. These supporters formed the base of Trump’s digital support — he was speaking to their bigoted concerns, long before the addition of Bannon.
Pre-Bannon, Trump had already set himself up as the de-facto leader of a burgeoning white supremacist movement, pandering to its world view and repeating its smears and rhetoric, with ideas like his proposed Muslim ban. Don Black, the head of the white supremacist hub Stormfront.org said in December 2015 that Trump “has clearly been a benefit to us.” At the same time, white supremacist Richard Spencer embraced the Trump candidacy and said, “I really do admire and respect what he’s doing.”
Bannon may have refined some of Trump’s outreach to hate groups and their supporters, while also influencing policy choices in favor of that world view, but Trump was on this path long before Bannon officially joined the team.
Trump has consistently pandered to racists, xenophobes, and anti-Semites as part of his core political appeal, and jettisoning one advisor is unlikely to stop him stoking these fires.
Ground zero of the White House’s hate problem is Trump. And until he himself is out of the White House, the hate and its enabler will remain.