This past Sunday, the editorial board of USA Today published a piece called “What Bannon shares with ISIL leader: Our view.” The item drew an alarming comparison between one of President Donald Trump’s closest advisers ― former Breitbart News chairman Steve Bannon ― and Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, leader of the militant group that calls itself the Islamic State. Both men, opined the editors, “harbor apocalyptic visions of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West.”
One wonders if Bannon would even object to the comparison. In just about every medium at his disposal, he has not only laid out his belief that the United States is steering headlong into such a “clash of civilizations,” but has gone to great lengths to explain how he arrived at this way of thinking. (Spoiler alert: It involves stuff like “saecula,” “Heroes,” “Nomads,” “Grey Champions” and other such “Game of Thrones”-ish esoterica. Exciting!) So you’d think that Bannon might actually relish the notion that he and Baghdadi are on some sort of eschatological collision course.
But someone had to raise an objection to this, I guess, and so Fox News’ Tucker Carlson took up the task, in a segment Wednesday with USA Today’s deputy editorial page editor David Mastio.
As you might imagine, Carlson was somewhat incredulous. Right off the bat, he presented Mastio with a novel defense of Bannon. “I want to play a quick game with you,” he said. “It’s called ‘Who Did It?’”
Hmmm. You know, I might quibble a little with this. It’s true that Bannon has not “declared a caliphate,” but he has called for something of a crusade ― for example, telling a 2014 Vatican City conference that the West is “at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism” and urging his audience to take up that fight. “It’s war. It’s war,” he said in 2015. “Every day, we put up: America’s at war, America’s at war. We’re at war.”
So there’s a certain willful obtuseness in Carlson’s approach. The USA Today editorial, obviously, does not attempt to demonstrate that Bannon and Baghdadi are literally alike. It merely observes that they are two sides of the same coin ― opposed to one another in certain ideological particulars, but gripped by the same accelerationist, apocalyptic instincts. (See also: “[Vladimir 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.”)
An unmoved Mastio told Carlson that Bannon “shares a dangerous idea that plays right into the idea of al Baghdadi.”
MASTIO: Al Baghdadi wants the war in the Middle East to be between all of Islam and all of the West. We’re at war with a psychotic death cult ― a fringe of the Islamic world, and Bannon agrees with Baghdadi that it is a war between Islam and the West. We don’t need to give Baghdadi that propaganda victory.
Carlson contended that Bannon’s comments about global war were metaphoric in nature ― which, for the time being, is true: Steve Bannon has not literally committed the atrocities that Baghdadi has authored in the Islamic State’s despotic slice of the world.
But hey, the presidential term is young!
Jason Linkins edits “Eat the Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.