Dear Donald –
I couldn’t help but read Steve’s profile in TIME magazine this week. It is, in many regards, a fascinating picture of the man behind the man, the one pulling he strings. I realize it’s never a great thing to see someone you think of as an advisor and subordinate cast as a “great manipulator,” but, let’s be honest, most folks surrounding anyone with power are trying to manipulate you a little bit.
Folks may respect your authority to make any given decision, but chances are that they’ve got an opinion in the matter and will do their best, even if only subtly, to get you to make the decision that they want. Sometimes they’ll directly advocate for the outcome they want, other times they’ll just stack the facts (or alternative facts, as the case may be) in such a way that it looks like only one decision is reasonable. In government, this usually takes the form of an options memo where one option has one pro and five cons and the other has five pros and one con. In any event, it’s the way of the world and you should be getting used to it by now.
The real thing you need to be clear about is what the motivations of the parties are when you’re gathering information or advice. For instance, if someone is lobbying you on whether to allow oil and gas companies to pollute rivers and streams , it’s good to know if he works for an oil company and stands to make a hefty profit off of your decision.
So the question becomes, what is Steve’s motivation? What is his driving force? Is he pushing you in a consistent direction? Is there a signal in the noise?
This is where a particular section of the TIME piece becomes important. You see, Steve identified The Fourth Turning as a book that deeply drives his thinking. Liberty Lopez gives a good summary of the theory behind the book in Business Insider:
In the book, authors William Strauss and Neil Howe theorize that he history of a people moves in 80-100 year cycles called “saecula.” The idea goes back to the ancient Greeks, who believed that at a given saeculum ‘s end, there would come “expyrosis,” a cataclysmic event that destroys the old order and brings in a new one in a trial of fire.
This era of change is known as the Fourth Turning, and Bannon, like Strauss and Howe, believes that we are in the midst of one right now…
[The last three Fourth Turnings – the American Revolution, The Civil War and Reconstruction, and the Great Depression and World War II – ] were marked by periods of dread and decay in which the American people were forced to unite to rebuild a new future, but only after a massive conflict in which many lives were lost.
Steve, like the authors of the book, believes that he current Fourth Turning was precipitated by the 2008 financial crisis, and his actions thus far, when framed through this lens, seem well calibrated to push us towards crisis and climax, which would, theoretically bring in the new world order.
One of the defining features of the Fourth Turning is a “regeneracy,” described by Lopez as a period of “isolationism… infrastructure building, and of strong, centralized government power, and a reimagination of the economy.” Steve made it clear that he sees you as a “blunt instrument” and an “imperfect vessel,” but he’s played you masterfully to establish this regeneracy on his own terms.
Under his advice, you’ve alienated our allies, established an explicitly America First policy, stopped travel into the country from many parts of the world, and are actively pursuing building a literal wall around the country.
It’s not a secret that you’ve harbored protectionist economic ideas for a long time. You’ve forcefully argued for tearing down trade agreements and enacting tariffs to punish corporations that participate in the global economy. Steve has played up these policy preferences to increase our isolation from the rest of the world, pushing us to separate from trade agreements, mutual defense arrangements, and collective action accords (like the Paris Accords). He’s also managed to get himself a permanent seat on the NSC principals committee, where he’ll be able to further push his isolationist and belligerent foreign and national security policies, pulling us even further from the world stage.
He’s also been able to exploit your ego and demands for control, pushing you to make ever greater grabs for power. You’ve already made it clear that you equate dissent with treason. Just look at your treatment of media outlets that challenge your authority, actions, or temperament:
Your long-running and well-documented racism and close ties with the construction industry have led to your calling for billions in infrastructure spending on border walls, roads, and bridges. Steve has promoted these tendencies every step of the way, as it further precipitates the coming conflict. The question is, what conflict does he think is coming?
Back in 2014, Steve addressed a conference at the Vatican in which he laid out his worldview:
I believe the world, and particularly the Judeo-Christian West, is in a crisis… and it is a crisis both of capitalism but really of the underpinnings of the Judeo-Christian West in our beliefs…
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. It 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 his last 2,000-2,500 years.
Now what I mean by that specifically: I think that you’re seeing three kinds of converging tendencies: one is a form of capitalism that is taken away from the underlying spiritual and moral foundations of Christianity and, really, Judeo-Christian belief…
The other tendency is an immense secularization of the West…
Now that all converges with something we have to face, and it’s a very unpleasant topic, but we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing faster than governments can handle it…
And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism and on top of that, we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.
In short, Steve thinks that capitalism should operate for the benefit of the “Judeo-Christian West” and should be organized to minimize and destroy Muslims. We can see this as an organizing principle of many of his foreign policy positions – the ban on immigration from certain countries, the talks of reviving Muslim registries. They’re designed to create and foster an us versus them mentality, both at home and abroad.
He sees Islam as a primary evil in the world, surpassing even that of Nazism. In January of last year, Steve said:
You could look in 1938 and say, ‘Look, it’s pretty dark here in Europe right now,’ but there’s something actually much darker. And that is Islam.
And, sadly, Steve is not alone in your group of advisors with this worldview. Frank Gaffney, a national security advisor and well-known conspiracy theorist, said about Muslims in a recent interview quoted by the New York Times:
They essentially, like termites, hollow out the structure of the civil society and other institutions for the purpose of creating conditions under which the jihad will succeed.
We’ve all see before what happens when a group, stigmatized because if religion ir ethnicity, is demonized and scapegoated as the cause of all a society’s ills:
However, it’s important that we never forget that this type of racism and xenophobia was not simply something that happened “over there.” We have a long history in this country of turning racial and ethnic minorities into subhuman or as covert spies who put races above country:
Our most recent foray rustled in thousands of our citizens spending years in detention camps for no reason other than the fact that they looked like the people we were fighting. We are not so enlightened as to be immune to these types of appeals.
This hatred of outsiders blinds us to the reality of the world, and pushes us to act in very specific ways, often contrary to our own benefit. It led to your recent reconstitution if the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program as the Countering Islamic Extremism (CIE) program, even though more violence has been perpetrated by extremists of faiths other than Islam. In fact, a 2015 study found that Americans are 7 times more likely to be killed by right wing extremists than by Muslim terrorists. But then, why focus on other faiths if your battle is with “Islamic fascism”?
In this world, there is much more than unites us than divides us if we bother to look past the superficial. We may not speak the same language or look the same or worship in the same way, but deep down we are all ultimately the same, with the same hopes and fears, the same love for family and friends. But when we allow ourselves to be blinded to stereotypes and hatred, we fall headlong into crisis and conflict.
Steve wants to precipitate just that kind of crisis, and he is doing so by wreaking havoc on our international diplomacy and national security. If he succeeds in cutting us off from the world and antagonizing our enemies, he may precipitate the very action he needs to justify the military response he so desperately wants.
In his mind, that response is the first volley in the destruction of “jihadist Islamic fascism,” and the restoration of Judeo-Christian values in global capitalism. In reality, it’s much more likely to result in the deaths of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
We must twist these tendencies at all costs, silence the drums of war, and open channels of dialogue. I have never known open and honest conversation to lead to war. Regardless of our differences, we must ensure that we always keep talking. The only time we become vulnerable to fear and innuendo about the unknown is when we allow it to remain unknown. If we engage in the world, and meaningfully participate with our neighbors, we can only become stronger.
There may indeed be an ekpyrosis coming, but it’s not the one that Steve envisions. This is our trial by fire. Will we allow racism and xenophobia to rule, or will we stand together and prove that we are stronger than our differences? Only time will tell.