Trump And Bannon Are Changing The Way We Think – Is It For The Better?

photo montage of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon

by Tony Wyman


Steve Bannon,

one-time adviser to President Trump and current editor of Breitbart News – a far-right political website that mixes hard news with tabloid sensationalism, has perfected a method of dialogue that is changing the way people think.
Bannon and Trump
The relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr, Steve Bannon continued after the president fired his adviser in August 2017.

What Mr. Bannon does is he takes an extremist position and hopes his readers will follow him at least 75% of the way. Let’s look at immigration, as an example. Immigrants to this country are substantially less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.

Legal immigrants, for example, are 69% less likely to be jailed than are the native-born and illegal immigrants are 44% less likely to be incarcerated than those born here.

The reasons why this is true are obvious, if we spend time thinking about it. People who go through all the trouble and expense of leaving their home country do so to make better lives for themselves and their families</strong

Why, then, would they begin lives of crime, jeopardizing the sacrifices they made when they left their native lands? It simply makes sense that immigrants, including illegal ones, would live law-abiding lives in the hopes of escaping the poverty, danger and uncertainty from which they fled.

Breitbart and the art of inflaming fears of “the other”.

But that isn’t how immigrants are portrayed at Breitbart News. There, immigrants are seen as rapists and drug dealers, coming here not to escape the chaos and brutality they faced in their country, but to export it here, turning America into an English-speaking version of Colombia, Egypt, Syria or Mexico.

To promote this idea of “outsider as threat,” Mr. Bannon and his writers never miss an opportunity to highlight any crime perpetrated by an immigrant or a Muslim on the front page of their website, while often overlooking crimes committed by native Americans.

Today, for example, Breitbart has nothing on the white man who fired dozens of shots in a Walmart, killing three, but it has 26 stories on its home page about Muslims or immigrants posing some sort of danger to Americans.

Egyptian Lawyer: “National Duty” to Rape Girls Who Wear Ripped Jeans,” claims one hysterical headline. “Exclusive – Graphic: Mexican Cartel Dismembers, Grills Innocent Civilians,” screams another, over top of gruesome pictures of severed body parts. “Terrorist Good Enough to Drive for Uber,” says a third.

Contrast these headlines with ones Breitbart wrote about the Las Vegas mass murder spree of white domestic terrorist Stephen Paddock. “Sheriff: Did Las Vegas Shooter Stephen Paddock Get Radicalized?” asked one headline. The answer is, no, he did not. “‘Do Something’ After Las Vegas Shooting – Okay, What?” asked another. “‘No Greater Love’ – Sarah Sanders Hails Heroes Reacting to Las Vegas Shooting,” gushed another.

Breitbart headlines
Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant headlines are common on Breitbart, often dominating the site’s home page.

If you look at all the stories about the Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people – 50 more victims than the New York City terrorist attack, you will see the majority of the Breitbart headlines are not about the killer.

None of them mention his race or religion.

The majority, instead, are about “liberals” attacking gun rights, country music stars and other conservatives praying for victims or heart-wrenching stories about the heroism of survivors or victims.

Mr. Bannon uses this technique to shape reader’s views of the news, a tactic he brought to the Trump White House. Any news that can be twisted or manipulated to support Mr. Bannon’s extremist nationalist views is exaggerated, decorated with inflammatory rhetoric designed to poison reader’s views of the subject and reduce their ability to judge a story using reason by clouding their minds with hate and fear. It is a very effective technique used for ages by propagandists of all political stripes.

Shifting of the Overton Window rightward

What he is attempting to do is move the Overton Window, the range of ideas that are tolerated as topics of discussion in public political discourse, to include his radical, anti-immigrant, nationalist agenda. This is something that Mr. Bannon and others, like Alex Jones on the right and, to a much less effective extent, MoveOn on the left, specialize in doing.

They aren’t trying to persuade you to believe everything they say as much as they are simply trying to get you to accept talking about these things in polite company, to consider them as possibilities.

If, for example, Mr. Bannon can get a majority of voting Americans to believe that there is some sort of Muslim or immigrant threat existing in America today, it opens a path to pushing legislation somewhere in the future that bans or severely restricts the number of people coming into this country from Muslim areas.

If Mr. Bannon can convince a sufficient number of Americans to believe our security is threatened by a conspiracy of foreigners in league with members of the American political left, it is much easier for him, and those in office who are in lockstep with him, to enact legislation or take executive action against the imagined threat.

Japanese boys in internment camp.
Japanese boys held in an American internment camp during World War II.

It may seem hard to believe that Americans would go along with draconian political measures restricting freedoms in support of security measures designed to counter imagined threats, but history tells us getting the public behind such actions is easier than we think.

Clearly, the most obvious example of this is the mass incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. But, since then, there have been a number of events that have prompted government to restrict our freedoms that passed without much but a whimper from the American people.

The terrible events of 9/11, for example, led to wide-ranging changes in freedoms we’ve enjoyed as a country for 200 years.

The Patriot Act’s subversion of the Fourth Amendment

The PATRIOT Act, (laws enacted shortly after 9/11), led to restrictions in freedom of speech, privacy and access to information that would have been unfathomable before the attacks. Citing the PATRIOT Act, the government can conduct searches and wire taps, without probable cause, of your personal property or phone at any time, something they could not have done before 9/11. Those are just a handful of things that changed, with our acquiescence, since the attacks.

Because our government has, generally, been responsible in its use of the PATRIOT Act, outrage against the law has been muted, limited mostly to civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups commonly seen as left-wing.

But what if Mr. Bannon succeeds in moving the Overton Window to a point where he centers it on his nationalist agenda? What if President Trump and his allies in the Republican Party join with him, adding the credibility of their offices to Breitbart’s often extremist positions?

Given that most Americans pay little attention to politics – 94% of Trump supporters and 90% of Clinton voters didn’t attend or watch a single rally or speech during the 2016 election, according to the American National Election Study – and that few voters switch parties, preferring, instead, to shift their political views to match those of the party of their affiliation, it isn’t hard to imagine that Mr. Bannon and President Trump could succeed in moving the window anywhere it suited them.

Even though Mr. Trump’s approval rating is at an historic low for a president at this stage of his tenure in office, it is stronger than both that of Congress and the media. And should another 9/11 happen on Mr. Trump’s watch, Americans will rally around whatever terror countermeasures he and his administration dream up.

And that should worry those who value liberty above all else.

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