I have been wary of Steve Bannon, but I came away from his “60 Minutes” interview with a much better understanding of the man, both plus and minus.
First the plus: in this age of political correctness and making sure your words don’t offend anyone or any group, I found it refreshing to hear a major figure speak from the heart.
Bannon spent little time thinking about Charlie Rose’s questions. Once he understood, he launched into what he believed, reserving virtually all his thinking to clearly state his position and let the chips fall where they may. I wish more leaders would follow this example.
Ignoring what he said, I can’t imagine any American not being impressed with the level of integrity, and the depth of confidence in what he believes. He calls himself a street fighter. OK.
Listening to Bannon, it came to me that he is Trump’s personal confidant because his advice got Trump elected president. All the other candidates chose the typical path to get elected; but as I reviewed Trump’s path, it was as if he had Bannon in his ear every step of the way. Trump focused on the support of Bannon’s “citizens” who felt disenfranchised.
Telling was Bannon’s view of the videotape in which Trump talks about groping women. He called it a “litmus test” for supporters; those who didn’t ignore it and stay 100% behind Trump’s positive prospects for winning the election were not part of the team.
Once Trump was elected, we all saw Bannon’s influence clearly evident in two highlights: the presidential inaugural speech and later in Trump’s speech to Congress.
Now to the minus side: The 60 Minutes interview revealed the basic national conflict in the Bannon-Trump “Make America Great Again” program. Bannon’s and Trump’s belief in an “America First” concept applies only to present American citizens. "Economic nationalism is what this country was built on. The American system," Bannon said.
When Rose tries to propose the “melting pot” idea, symbolized by the Statue of Liberty, Bannon strongly disagreed: "You couldn't be more dead wrong. America was built on her citizens."
Predictably, Bannon has no empathy for the more than 700,000 DACA children who were brought here by their parents: "There's no path to citizenship, no path to a green card and — no amnesty. Amnesty is non-negotiable."
While I like Bannon’s straightforward manner, I absolutely oppose his political stance.
First, except for Native Americans, we have all come from immigrants. Bannon doesn’t like elitism. Yet by restricting America to present citizens, he would be creating an elite class of immigrants.
He promotes what he calls “the American system.” But what has built this great country is the American Dream. Beginning with early settlers like the Pilgrims, America has attracted those who have the vision and the courage to seek a better life.
America not only thrives on that deep-rooted vitality—its future depends upon it. The great British historian Arnold Toynbee studied all 27 civilizations that have existed. He found that all were founded in adversity, and the 23 that became extinct, did so after becoming prosperous.
The conclusion is that man thrives in adversity but flounders in prosperity. So we need a healthy influx of immigrants eager to address and overcome adversity. In fact, more than a third of the top US tech companies were founded by people born outside America.
Bannon’s idea of restricting America to present Americans is static and contrary to the energizing spirit of the American Dream. He misses the real message of Emma Lazarus’ Statue of Liberty poem: “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free…”
It says to everyone on earth: anything is possible in America. That is why America is in love with the underdog.
That spirit has built America, and it will energize its future.