Stephen Bannon is no anti-Semite

Ben Cohen

The mainstream media reacted to Donald Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon with alarm. The Huffington Post worried “a white nationalist is the new White House chief strategist.”

Earlier this year, Bannon stirred controversy by telling Mother Jones magazine that Breitbart News was the “platform of the alt-right.” The alt-right, short for alternative right, attracted attention this election cycle because of its harassment of journalists and Trump opponents on social media. Some were viciously anti-Semitic and racist.

But is Stephen Bannon part of the alt-right? While Breitbart has employees who pander to the alt-right, Bannon himself is not part of the alt-right. The issues that interest Bannon, along with the concerns that inform his beliefs, are fundamentally different than those of the alt-right.

When Bannon speaks to gatherings of conservatives he talks about runaway entitlement spending, the fiscal cliff, the national debt and the 2008 fiscal crisis. Bannon rarely talks about race, immigration or demographics — the issues that obsess those on the racial right.

Those on the racial right see core American values and traditions in non-universal terms; they see them as cultural particularities. For them, demographic change means the inevitable disappearance of everything they love. As white nationalist leader Jared Taylor put it: “Nothing you love will survive without white people.”

Bannon has explicitly rejected the views of Taylor and the like. Bannon recently told an interviewer, “I’m not a white nationalist, I’m a nationalist. I’m an economic nationalist. The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over. If we deliver we’ll get 60 percent of the white vote, and 40 percent of the black and Hispanic vote and we’ll govern for 50 years.”

Bannon and Trump’s populism makes many conservatives nervous. Bannon has called for negative interest rates and a trillion dollars of infrastructure spending—Keynesian economics on steroids. Bannon’s views are unorthodox for a conservative, but they are not white nationalism.

None of this means we have to ignore the dark side of American populism. Bannon is not an anti-Semite, but when he rails against global elites, David Duke hears Jews. This isn’t Bannon’s fault, but we can’t entirely excuse him. When Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos told a gathering of southerners that they need to vote for Trump in order to preserve state’s rights, he wasn’t talking about the Department of Education and Common Core; Yiannopoulos is well aware of his audience.

While we shouldn’t excuse Breitbart’s alt-right pandering, it does not reflect Bannon’s beliefs. Calling Bannon a white nationalist amounts to dishonest smearing, and it doesn’t help those fighting the alt-right’s bigotry.

Ben Cohen holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Northeastern Illinois University.