Let’s just start with the statement Donald Trump released yesterday:
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting. This is not about religion — this is about terror and keeping our country safe.”
See? We said Muslim ban, not him. There we go again, twisting his words when he just wants to provide a measure of safety to the American people. This is how he will spin this saga with his base and the politically apathetic, and given how the campaign went, that’s a winning strategy.
There are three years, eleven months, and twenty days left in Donald Trump’s presidency. So far, he has issued executive orders on the topic of everything he said he would do, and much of the left seems to have responded with genuine surprise. Yes, the executive order Trump just signed certainly will destroy lives and it already has (if it’s allowed to stand), but it’s also toothless compared to the roving CDR-esque gangs that he promised during the campaign. It was such a sloppy attempt at legislation, that a few judges around the country issued a stay on Saturday night, effectively telling the administration that most of this won’t happen until they formulate an actual plan. The scenes that followed demonstrated some of the best that America has to offer.
Do you see how freaking out when Trump says he will do a thing, and then again when he (says he) does the thing, hurts your credibility? What happens if the big thing actually gets implemented? When is freaking out not an option?
The executive order itself is vague and confusing, and falls far short of what those on the far right hoped for.
Steve Bannon, who looks more and more like #PresidentBannon as the days pass, is an avowed Leninist who told The Daily Beast:
“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.”
Lenin once wrote
“The art of any propagandist and agitator consists in his ability to find the best means of influencing any given audience, by presenting a definite truth, in such a way as to make it most convincing, most easy to digest, most graphic, and most strongly impressive.”
Every single person committed to opposing Trump's agenda should be required to read Steve Bannon's 2014 speech to a Human Dignity Institute conference held inside a room at the Vatican. You cannot fight a winning battle unless you understand your enemy. This is why the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are currently watching hundreds of hours of tape on each other to get an edge in this Sunday's Super Bowl. We must do the same for Trump, Bannon, national security adviser Michael Flynn, and anyone else who emerges as a large player in this administration.
Bannon has a very good grasp of the moment we find ourselves within, and comes off as quite reasonable at times in that speech. His assessment of the 2008 financial crisis is spot on. Trump may be a doofus, but the guy controlling his strings is anything but. Remember Dick Cheney? He's back, but even Dick Cheney is already disturbed by Bannon's policies.
Highlights from Bannon's Talk at the Vatican
On global affairs:
And we're at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that's starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we've been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years.
I was really talking about the parties on the continent, Front National and other European parties. I'm not an expert in this, but it seems that they have had some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial. By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we've been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it's not. But there's always elements who turn up at these things, whether it's militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more.
I'm not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he's talking about as far as traditionalism goes—particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism—and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it's what can see us forward.
You know, Putin's been quite an interesting character. He's also very, very, very intelligent. I can see this in the United States where he's playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it's something that we have to be very much on guard of. Because at the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand. However, I really believe that in this current environment, where you're facing a potential new caliphate that is very aggressive that is really a situation — I'm not saying we can put it on a back burner — but I think we have to deal with first things first.
On radical Islam:
I believe you should take a very, very, very aggressive stance against radical Islam. And I realize there are other aspects that are not as militant and not as aggressive and that's fine. If you look back at the long history of the Judeo-Christian West struggle against Islam, I believe that our forefathers kept their stance, and I think they did the right thing. I think they kept it out of the world, whether it was at Vienna, or Tours, or other places… It bequeathed to use the great institution that is the church of the West.
And I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today, is to think, when people 500 years from now are going to think about today, think about the actions you've taken—and I believe everyone associated with the church and associated with the Judeo-Christian West that believes in the underpinnings of that and believes in the precepts of that and want to see that bequeathed to other generations down the road as it was bequeathed to us, particularly as you're in a city like Rome, and in a place like the Vatican, see what's been bequeathed to us—ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?
We've already seen how this hardcore nationalism plays in a governing role.
This is not a home game for us. Donald Trump is president, so we unfortunately are playing within Steve Bannon's parameters. This White House will do things specifically designed to distract us, and will take actions solely designed to damage our reputation within the larger battle we are fighting. While we were protesting at airports across the nation, showing America's true humanity to those who still believe in our dream, Steve Bannon made a power grab that is unprecedented in our nation's history. The protest over Trump's executive order was worthwhile and necessary, but we must be aware of the relative impact of his actions. If everything he does is the worst thing ever, then nothing is.
This weekend, a cruel policy was sloppily implemented, and a lot of people affected by it still made it through to America anyway. Also this weekend, Steve Bannon became one of the 20 most powerful people in the world at the expense of some of our greatest military minds. Eyes on the ball, folks.
This Kind of Specific, Targeted Outrage Is Helpful
This Is Not Helpful
Yes, banning people coming from seven Muslim countries is technically ethnic cleansing, but only in the same sense that a seat belt is also a car. The connotation of “ethnic cleansing” evokes images of Nazi Germany, late 20th century Zimbabwe, or ISIS-controlled areas today. Characterizing Donald Trump's executive order as anything but a sloppy, cruel attempt to partially make good on a bigoted campaign promise is disingenuous. And given how poorly worded and implemented the order was, combined with the reshuffling of the National Security Council at the same time, it's difficult to not see it as an intentional distraction.
Trumpism feeds off of the outrage of the left and the media. If you constantly cry wolf, then the wolf begins to sound preferable to you. Yes, this executive order stands against everything we built as a nation, and it should deeply disturb all of us, but so was Trump's entire campaign. None of this has been a surprise. Referring to an executive order which reads more like a press release than a legal document as “ethnic cleansing” feeds right into their perception of the left as a bunch of whiny babies who only cry foul when they lose.
We need to be more selective with our righteous outrage, because Bannon's overall goal is to portray Trump's opposition as lawless, giving the population the choice between (perceived) anarchy and the rule of law—it's dictatorship 101. What's done is done. Trump is president and he is going to ruin some lives. This executive order puts every immigrant currently out of the country in limbo. It betrays de facto American soldiers who served on the front lines with our troops. We should be pissed, but we can't keep our righteous outrage constantly tuned to 110%, or else every plight sounds the same. If we are going to combat Donald Trump, that means bringing former Obama voters back in to the resistance as well as those who are politically apathetic, and that starts with acknowledging that there was some validity to voting for Trump.
Donald Trump, not the Republican, nor the Democratic party, won this election. We are free from the Clinton and Bush dynasties which have ruled this country for three decades. Trump's election sent a very loud and clear message to the Washington establishment that unless they change, there are enough people willing to bring change to their doorstep with pitchforks and torches. It sends the exact same message Obama sent in 2008 against John McCain, just from a different viewpoint: any detour is preferable to the status quo. Any message we send must begin from this mindset, and as Trump's presidency ages, by definition, he becomes more and more of the status quo. We must be patient.
How to Chill Out
This does not mean allying with Trumpism or even disengaging ourselves from fighting back against unconstitutional acts like this executive order, but we must better legislate our emotions and speech if we are to win this cold civil war of hearts and minds. Saturday was all about the second biggest news of the day, and judging by the reaction, the biggest news got swept completely under the rug. We need to make it clear that we cannot be manipulated like we're James Woods in Family Guy.
Better use of our language can extinguish miscommunication. Instead of “this is ethnic cleansing,” say “moments like these are where the concept of ethnic cleansing becomes normalized,” because if ethnic cleansing actually begins to happen, well…you already said it did happen when it really didn't, so why should it be true now? The seriousness of the overall point is still conveyed, but for someone whose knee-jerk reaction is to support the ban, it allows them to contemplate it in a way that makes it less personal. In one scenario they are a part of the ethnic cleansing, in the other, it's still conceptual.
Banning an entire religion from entering the country, but from only seven nations, is both a laughably juvenile way to address a supposed problem (this is how he said it would work), and a chilling reminder of what this administration stands for. Calling what largely amounts to a disorganized PR campaign (at this point) “ethnic cleansing,” gives cover for the true evil that Steve Bannon has planned for the future.
Donald Trump—Boy King—doesn't know what he's doing, but Steve Bannon does, and he is counting on us to freak out. Washington moves slowly, has a bazillion competing interests, and the judicial branch still has the ability to check the executive's power. Plus, the Republicans in Congress aren't exactly itching to fully back someone with a sub-40% approval rating. Until our other two branches fully weigh in, the rest will appear to be speculation—which is why aligning our outrage to the measurable impact of crimes is so important. If we don't, our message will be drowned out by the caricature we are painting in our fellow citizens' minds, and we will create the shadows that Steve Bannon needs to carry out his agenda.
I will leave you with a tweetstorm from Tom Nichols, a conservative professor at the Naval War College and Harvard Extension school, who provided an ideal checklist for us whenever Trump issues an executive order.
Jacob Weindling is Paste’s business and media editor, as well as a staff writer for politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.