External Affairs

Trump’s New Chief Strategist Once Described Modi’s Election as Part Of ‘Global Revolt’

Stephen Bannon’s media outlet also praised the Modi government for “banning” Greenpeace.

US president-elect Donald Trump with his chief strategist and White House senior counsellor Stephen Bannon (right). Credit: Reuters

US president-elect Donald Trump with his chief strategist and White House senior counsellor Stephen Bannon (right). Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: Exactly a month after Narendra Modi was sworn in as prime minister, an American media baron described his “great victory” as part of a “global revolt” against crony capitalism. Two years on, Steve Bannon is most likely to be US president-elect Donald Trump’s most influential advisor, but not without controversy.

Buzzfeed News published the full transcript of Bannon’s session at the conference organised by the Dignitatis Humanae Institute, a Catholic NGO, in June 2014. The theme of the conference held at the Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences in the Vatican City was “Poverty and the Common Good: Putting the ‘Preferential Option for the Poor’ at the Service of Human Dignity”. Bannon was the last speaker of the two-day conference, and spoke at a session titled “Should Christians impose limits on wealth creation?”

Bannon, who heads Breitbart News Media, an alt-right media group, claimed that there was an ongoing global “centre-right” revolt. “I think you’re going to see it in Latin America, I think you’re going to see it in Asia, I think you’ve already seen it in India,” he said.

“Modi’s great victory was very much based on these Reaganesque principles, so I think this is a global revolt, and we are very fortunate and proud to be the news site that is reporting that throughout the world,” he added.

Bannon’s views on Modi’s victory were put in the  context of an alleged backlash from conservative working class and middle-class voters against “crony capitalists”. He described this backlash as having led the UK Independence Party and far right groups in Europe to political prominence.

“The theme is all the same. And the theme is middle-class and working-class people — they’re saying, “Hey, I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked. I’m getting less benefits than I’m ever getting through this, I’m incurring less wealth myself, and I’m seeing a system of fat cats who say they’re conservative and say they back capitalist principles, but all they’re doing is binding with corporatists.” Right? Corporatists, to garner all the benefits for themselves,” Bannon said.

He also noted that his main concern was that the West had forgotten the “Judeo-Christian” foundation of capitalism.

“But the thing that got us out of it, the organizing principle that met this, was not just the heroism of our people — whether it was French resistance fighters, whether it was the Polish resistance fighters, or it’s the young men from Kansas City or the Midwest who stormed the beaches of Normandy, commandos in England that fought with the Royal Air Force, that fought this great war, really the Judeo-Christian West versus atheists, right?”

He noted that the “enlightened form of capitalism” was the reason that provided the support and “built the materials needed to support …. the Soviet Union, England, the United States, and eventually to take back continental Europe and to beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East”.

Bannon was Trump’s third campaign chairman, but had been using his news empire to champion the real estate billionaire from the start.

A Guardian profile of Bannon in August, a week after his formal appointment to the campaign, tracked how Breitbart had relentlessly attacked Trump’s opponents from the Republican primaries stage. It quoted a former Breitbart editor as describing the news outlet as “Trump Pravda”.

Southern Poverty Law Center, a US-based NGO that tracks alt-right violence and propaganda, described Breitbart as a “far-right website that caters to white nationalists”. Incidentally, on Tuesday, Breitbart threatened to sue a “major media company” for describing it as a white nationalist website.

The importance of Bannon’s appointment is evident with his name being mentioned above that of Reince Preibus, who has been tapped as the president-elect’s chief of staff, in the communique from the Trump transition team.

While Bannon had remained in the shadows during the campaign, his role in the Trump White House as chief political strategist has evoked a firestorm of criticism, with critics describing his views as “anti-Semitic, anti-minority and misogynistic”.

Following Trump’s win, Buzzfeed compiled some of the “incendiary stories” written by Bannon, which included articles against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, prominent Jewish conservatives who opposed Trump, the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement and Muslim immigration.

A search on Breitbart for India-related news brought up many wire reports on tensions between India and Pakistan, and demonetisation.

But there were also some in-house reports from Breitbart contributors, including an approving March 2016 article about Christian proselytisation apparently increasing in India despite “anti-Christian violence”.

On May 30, Breitbart published a report to show how “Indian-owned and connected companies are at the center of the H-1B controversy, but most Americans aren’t even aware of who these companies are”.

“While many well-meaning conservatives spent their time talking about the low skill workers coming over the border illegally from Mexico and Central America, they ignored the wage stagnation caused by the planeloads of H-1B workers flying legally into the country from India,” it said in that report.

A Washington Post report on Tuesday analysed Trump’s interviews on Stephen Bannon’s radio shows to glean some insight into their relationship. Among other takeaways, It showed that Trump was more keen to keep highly-skilled foreign students from Ivy League schools inside the country, but Bannon was not too keen, pointing out the high number of South Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley.

We have to be careful of that, Steve. You know, we have to keep our talented people in this country,” Trump said. He paused. Bannon said, “Um.”

“I think you agree with that,” Trump said. “Do you agree with that?”

Bannon was hesitant.

“When two-thirds or three-quarters of the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think . . . ” Bannon said, not finishing the sentence. “A country is more than an economy. We’re a civic society.” [Link]

Last year in November, Breitbart praised the Modi government for “banning” Greenpeace. “Alternatively, you could argue, it’s the Indian government doing what not even Putin’s Russia was capable of doing when push came to shove (during the Greenpeace Arctic 30 affair): telling this richly-funded, pan-global outfit of vexatious, mendacious, bleeding heart meddlers exactly where they can stick their environmental activism,” said the report, titled ‘Grab An Onion And Weep For Humanity: India Just Outlawed Greenpeace‘.

Bannon’s appointment as Trump’s chief political strategist also drew criticism from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a US organisation combating anti-Semitism. “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right, a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists – is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,” the ADL said in a statement. Breitbart countered by pointing out that Trump had the “strongest pro-Israel platform ever”. The difference in response highlighted the conflict in the Jewish-American community, especially since many prominent Trump critics who happen to be Jewish had been subjected to a torrent of anti-Semitism over social media.