Doyle McManus makes a point today about Steve Bannon that I think is obvious, but still hasn’t sunk in with everyone:
Stephen K. Bannon, President-elect Donald Trump’s chief political strategist, has been condemned by critics as a closet racist and anti-Semite….Reporters have scoured Bannon’s past statements in search of a smoking gun (he hosted a daily radio show for several years), and have come up virtually empty-handed.
Case closed? Not quite. In stretching to paint Bannon as an old-fashioned racist, his critics overshot — and also missed the point. Bannon is more complicated, a whole new political beast. And because of that, he’s more dangerous than his adversaries in both the Democratic and Republican parties yet realize.
….His editors at Breitbart News, the conservative website he ran, said Bannon tried to keep overt racism out of the headlines. That said, he allowed plenty of dog whistles. An entire category of articles was tagged “Black Crime,” for instance. The comment section was “a cesspool for white supremacists,” a former editor complained. Bannon shrugged off any guilt by association. “Are there some people that are white nationalists that are attracted to some of the philosophies of the “alt-right”? Maybe,” he told Mother Jones magazine. “Are there some people that are anti-Semitic that are attracted? Maybe.”
So even if we give Bannon the benefit of the doubt on racism, he’s still presided over a website that deliberately indulges in race-baiting, presumably to build its audience. Is that better or worse? You decide.
I’ve written about this before, and I’ve already decided: It’s worse. The David Duke version of racism may be repugnant, but for that very reason it’s fairly easy to fight. There are just too many people who are put off by it.
The Steve Bannon version is far more effective. Partly this is because, yes, critics will overreach and discredit themselves. Partly it’s because his more subtle attacks on “political correctness” don’t put off as many people. Partly it’s because he assures people they can have racist attitudes without actually being racists. And partly it’s because his sub rosa approach is just plain harder to expose.
If the only people we had to confront were the David Dukes of the world, racism would be a whole lot easier to deal with. There aren’t that many of them; they’re mostly not very bright; and to give them their due, they actually believe what they’re saying. That limits their political flexibility. Guys like Bannon are far more odious. He probably doesn’t believe most of the alt-right’s nonsense. But he’s willing to sit in the background and cynically exploit it for personal and political benefit. That’s about as vile as you can get.