In the summer of 2014, Steve Bannon – US president-elect Donald Trump’s new chief strategist – gave a speech to the Human Dignity Institute, a conservative religious group that was holding a conference at the Vatican.
BuzzFeed attended the meeting and published an invaluable transcript of Bannon’s remarks.
It’s fascinating. It shows Bannon’s view of the world is much more complicated than most people have thus far assumed. He finds aspects of capitalism “very disturbing,” for instance, and cites Marx in his analysis of the free market’s faults.
Until recently, the public mainly knew Bannon as the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the inflammatory “alt-right” website that peddles conspiracy theories and fake news, like this item “proving” that Trump somehow won the popular vote (he did not). Before he became Trump’s election campaign chief, Bannon once described himself (ironically) as a “Leninist” who wants “to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
In the Vatican talk, Bannon described in length and detail how he views the biggest issues of the day:
- He wants to tear down "crony capitalism": "a brutal form of capitalism that is really about creating wealth and creating value for a very small subset of people. And it doesn't spread the tremendous value creation throughout broader distribution patterns that were seen really in the 20th century. ... when you have this kind of crony capitalism, you have a different set of rules for the people that make the rules." [This position is surprising because Trump has so many conflicts of interests he looks like a perfect example of crony capitalism.] He is against Ayn Rand's version of libertarianism: "The second form of capitalism that I feel is almost as disturbing, is what I call the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism. And, look, I'm a big believer in a lot of libertarianism. I have many many friends that's a very big part of the conservative movement - whether it's the UKIP movement in England, it's many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States. However, that form of capitalism is quite different when you really look at it to what I call the "enlightened capitalism" of the Judeo-Christian West. It is a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people, and to use them almost - as many of the precepts of Marx - and that is a form of capitalism, particularly to a younger generation [that] they're really finding quite attractive. And if they don't see another alternative, it's going to be an alternative that they gravitate to under this kind of rubric of 'personal freedom.'" [Bannon's anti-Rand position is interesting because of her popularity on the alt-right, and because Peter Thiel, the Trump campaign funder and Silicon Valley venture capitalist, is a known Rand fan.] He believes the West needs to wage "a global war against Islamic fascism": "They have a Twitter account up today, ISIS does, about turning the United States into a "river of blood" if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad. And trust me, that is going to come to Europe. That is going to come to Central Europe, it's going to come to Western Europe, it's going to come to the United Kingdom. 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." [This dovetails perfectly with Trump's plan to combat "radical Islamic terrorism."] He is not sympathetic to Putin: "I can see this in the United States where he's playing very strongly to social conservatives about his message about more traditional values, so I think it's something that we have to be very much on guard of. Because at the end of the day, I think that Putin and his cronies are really a kleptocracy, that are really an imperialist power that want to expand." [That's another surprise, because Trump has multiple ties to Russia and has made remarks suggesting the US should be friendlier with Putin.] He believes the capitalism of the "Judeo Christian West" is in crisis: "If you look at the leaders of capitalism at that time, when capitalism was I believe at its highest flower and spreading its benefits to most of mankind, almost all of those capitalists were strong believers in the Judeo-Christian West. They were either active participants in the Jewish faith, they were active participants in the Christians' faith, and they took their beliefs, and the underpinnings of their beliefs was manifested in the work they did. And I think that's incredibly important and something that would really become unmoored. I can see this on Wall Street today - I can see this with the securitization of everything is that, everything is looked at as a securitization opportunity. People are looked at as commodities. I don't believe that our forefathers had that same belief." [Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker - so the fact that he thinks securitization has gone too far is interesting.] He believes the racists that are attracted to Trump will become increasingly irrelevant: "I don't believe I said UKIP in that. I was really talking about the parties on the continent, Front National and other European parties. I'm not an expert in this, but it seems that they have had some aspects that may be anti-Semitic or racial. By the way, even in the tea party, we have a broad movement like this, and we've been criticized, and they try to make the tea party as being racist, etc., which it's not. But there's always elements who turn up at these things, whether it's militia guys or whatever. Some that are fringe organizations. My point is that over time it all gets kind of washed out, right? People understand what pulls them together, and the people on the margins I think get marginalized more and more." Bannon also has a special interesting British politics and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). He mentions UKIP nine times in his remarks - months before the party gained its surprise win in the EU referendum vote in June 2016. "I've spent quite a bit of time with UKIP," he says. "I have many, many friends that's a very big part of the conservative movement - whether it's the UKIP movement in England, it's many of the underpinnings of the populist movement in Europe, and particularly in the United States."
That would explain why it was UKIP leader Nigel Farage and his team who got the first personal meeting with Trump in New York - before any other UK politicians.