Donald Trump’s former Chief Strategist Steve Bannon will be visiting Sweden and wants to meet with the Sweden Democrats ahead of this year’s parliamentary election.
By – Björn af Kleen
The first time I met Steve Bannon is at a ”meet and greet”, according to his press secretary. We arranged a meeting in his house, a brick building in Washington.
After being led in to the building by his nephew, who runs errands for him and accompanies him on trips around the world, I finally met the master of the house, Bannon himself.
”Nice to meet you, Björn. My name is Steve Bannon,” he said.
His voice was surprisingly soft.
The ideologist behind Donald Trump’s most reactionary reforms, the travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries and the backing out of the Paris agreement, had lost some weight.
During Trump’s first six months in the White House, when the president’s wife Melania Trump and their son Barron were still living in New York, Steve Bannon often had dinner with Trump, according to Michael Wolff’s book ”Fire and Fury”. The president likes cheeseburgers and steaks with mountains of fries. After being fired Bannon put himself on a diet. Witch brews mixed with vinegar chased of the Trump-fat. The journalist Keith Koffler describes the cleansing procedure in his new short biography ”Bannon. Always the Rebel”.
When we met there were two unpublished manuscripts on the table in front of him. A pile of magazines. Two cell phones and a conflict study by the Harvard-professor Graham Allison: ”Destined for War: Can America and China escape Thucydide’s Trap? On the mantelpiece behind him he had Joshua Green’s article ”Devil’s Bargain, Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Storming of the Presidency” with the famous cover photo where Trump puts two thankful hands on Bannon’s shoulders; a divorce paper.
Bannon is coming to Sweden in the summer. That is why he has taken the time to meet with Dagens Nyheter. He asked several questions about Sweden. At one point he askd me about my childhood town.
One week later I met Steve Bannon again, this time for a real interview. We met at a hotel in New York. He said he would be spending time in Sweden during the summer, at least a week each month. He told me his focus is building an army of grassroots in the US, but that Swedes are at the frontline of what is going on. And he said he will be learning from the Sweden Democrats, and from their leader, Jimmie Åkesson, who he sees as a dynamic politician.
”We’ve studied the Sweden Democrats for a while. They have come from nowhere, to be a dominant, powerful political party in Sweden. And as importantly I think, they have gone from somebody that no respectable person wanted to be associated with, to a party that is really reaching out and getting many people to be comfortable being associated with them”, he said.
”And here is the reason: They managed to change their core message without losing their driving force.”
The Sweden Democrats want to gain respect from the traditional conservative parties and distance themselves from the alt-right. Is this the wrong strategy?
”I don’t know if it’s the wrong strategy. But let’s take the United States as an example. I get more vilified by the old traditional conservatives. The National Review has a hate Bannon-article every couple of days. Because the old traditional conservatives, who by the way were being made obsolete by the Obama and the Clinton machine would have never beaten Hillary Clinton. It would have been over for a generation, or longer. If you go to the traditional conservative sites their heads blow up when they talk about Trump. They call us blood and soil-nationalists. They vilify us more than the guys on the left. So I would tell the Sweden Democrats: hey, just stick to what you think is right. And keep grinding. Like Trump. Once you start connecting with people they will all want to be your friend.”
Do you have respect for the worry that many Swedes feel about the fact that the same politicians who paraded with swastikas, are now gaining parliamentary power?
“Look, anti-Semitism and what the Nazi’s stood for, the ethno-nationalism has absolutely no place in the modern world and the modern political life. I think what you’re seeing in the rejection of these establishment politicians is people wanting their country back and their culture back. It transcends ethno-nationalism. I think what the Swedish people have to do is the same as people all over the world are doing: look at the party every day and ask: does that represent what I stand for? If you can answer yes it’s something you can think about supporting. If you can’t answer yes, then stand in opposition to it.
”I don’t have a problem with opposition. I mean Breitbart led the opposition against Obama and the Republican establishment for many years. I love debate, and I love heated debate and I don’t have a problem with the guys in the progressive left. In fact, I had more progressives in the White House just talking over issues than any of my counterparts.”
Bannon recently spent a few weeks in Italy, Switzerland and France. In an interview with the conservative British magazine ”The Spectator” he confessed to his ”fascination” with Mussolini. In The New York Times he called Hungary’s nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán a ”hero”. In French Lille he spoke to Marine Le Pen’s fans. “Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honour,” he said.
He is bringing the same message to Sweden.
”You couldn’t get nicer, more accommodating people than the Swedes. Swedes are giving, caring people who reach out to help in situations around the world. Even when this migration thing started. You know in your hearts that you’re not racist or nativist. But you have seen what has happened to your country. Because the people in Brussels don’t care. That’s what I meant in France. Like Trump – giving everything that Trump has done to help the black and Hispanic working class, the lowest unemployment among blacks. And they still call him racist.”
During the transition period Bannon was the Trump team’s heavyweight, despite having no experience in building a government. Michael Wolff describes Bannon as maybe ”the worst boss in history”. But Bannon had two crucial skills for the job: as an entrepreneur he skillfully won the trust of wealthy men, and he never slept.
A day after the meeting with The Financial Times, The New York Times reports that Trump’s security advisor HR McMaster has been fired, and is being replaced by John Bolton. His financial advisor Gary Cohn has recently been replaced by Larry Kudlow. Trump’s new choices are suspiciously similar to the original choices that Bannon made.
So these are your troops taking over the White house.
”I wouldn’t say that, but the president is getting back to his nationalist foundation. He is getting rid of the globalists. And what you’re seeing now are people that are much closer to his point of view. Bolton has been criticised for being a neo-con and one of the architects behind the Iraq war. But I think Bolton has learned a lot. I can’t think of a guy that embodies Trump’s ‘America First’ more than him,” Bannon says.
”Look at Iran. If you look at Bolton’s history he is very consistent about linking their behaviour in the region back to the nuclear deal. He links Iranian behaviour in Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut. The expansion plans. He says they have to be held accountable for all their behaviour.”
Bannon thinks Bolton’s appointing will have big implications for Europe. According to Trump, European states are taking advantage of the US. But he thinks Bolton will collect the Nato fees.
”You’re getting a free ride off the deplorables.”
His reference is to the American working class and their taxes. During the election campaign Hillary Clinton referred to Trump’s fans as ”the deplorables”.
”The EU is the size of the US in population and roughly the same size in the economy. You are the same as us. We spend 780 billion dollars on defence. You spend 150 billon dollars. It just can’t go on. You have to pick up more of the tab for your own defence. In addition, you have to be more engaged in the Middle East, in particular the Persian Gulf. We look to Europe as our long-term partner, but there must be a reality check. ”
Larry Kudlow – Trump’s new financial advisor – is a partner of Bannon’s. ”One of the smartest guys around” he says.
”And he’s not a globalist, like Gary Cohn was. Larry Kudlow believes in the free market, but he is an American nationalist. Just look at his first interview, he came out on CNBC and the very first thing he said is that he believes we have to put together a coalition of the willing as trade partners, i.e. Sweden, i.e. the EU, to combat China.”
In Bannon’s opinion, China is the red flag. His perception is that both Brexit and the fact that Trump was chosen as president are natural outcomes following competition from Chinese overcapacity.
”That essentially destroyed a lot of the Midland’s industrial jobs of England. And it was those Labour voters that teamed up with the right and made Brexit happen. There’s a bunch of studies from MIT and Harvard showing a direct correlation between the factories that left, the workers and jobs that left with those factories to China, and the opioid crisis we have in the United States – with the workers who are basically without hope.”
Maggie Haberman at The New York Times has stressed the fact that no one really disappears from Trump’s ring of advisors. The president can sometimes call friends he has just publically executed.
The changes we see now in the White house, are they happening because you still have an influence in the White house?
”No it’s not about me personally. I think the influence is Trump’s agenda. President Trump understands right now that his strength comes from securing his base, delivering for that base and expanding that base out.”
The president, according to Bannon, is back on the 26th floor of the Trump Tower in Manhattan, and the leadership he had there. Bannon says that Trump from now on will govern the country without a chief-of-staff.
”It’s very logical. I can tell you from being up there, he has five or six direct reports, people just walk in and that’s what he is comfortable with. He is 71 years old, he has a certain way he approaches life and gets things done. I think he tried the traditional way. Once a little looser with Reince (Preibus). Much more structured with John Kelly, maybe too much to the extreme. Neither one really worked. So it’s not my influence. He is a true populist. He is a true nationalist. And now you’re seeing him go back to his real instincts.”
”I think he realised with Twitter he disintermediated the mainstream media by going over their heads. I believe the reorganisation you will see, is him disintermediating the chief of staff.”
You speak like John Kelly is already out?
”He is already out. Let us cut to the chase. He is not active. Trump is his own chief of staff right now. I dare say that Kelly knew many of these moves as they happened. Trump is just going directly to people. I anticipate if things go on as they are, I don’t expect Kelly will be there a lot longer. It’s obvious from how Trump is handling things. He is hands on.”
The Cambridge Analytica scandal has just exploded. Steve Bannon co-founded the company using money from the Breitbart financial benefactors, Robert and Rebekah Mercer. According to Christopher Wylie, The Guardian’s whistleblower, Bannon had insight into how the company was working. Bannon himself denies that.
When we met in New York he seemed invigorated by the attention given to the scandal.
”The Guardian has been running around, they get one guy, a fantasist saying all this crazy stuff. His quote is ’I created Steve Bannon’s mindfuck psychological tool’. If you thought I was Darth Vader before, now I’m the Dark Lord. I’m some evil genius. But what happened to the standard of having two sources? If The Guardian doesn’t have that standard I have many stories on Obama and on Hillary Clinton. If that’s what you want, I can deliver.”
”First it was the Russians who were behind Trump winning the election, and now they can’t prove it was the Russians. Mueller is all about the obstruction of justice, and Trump’s bank papers. So how could he win the election? You know what it is: IT’S FACEBOOK DATA! Are you kidding me? It’s so laughable in the face of it…. Am I going to sit here and answer that?”
So you were not aware of how Cambridge Analytica was getting data from 50 million people?
”I was not aware that they were doing it. But I did know they were in the marketplace of getting data. That’s why Bob Mercer founded it. And? Your personal data is all over. If you think it is some private thing that nobody knows, you’re mistaken. It’s everywhere.”
Among these people were a few million deplorables. Do you feel bad that you sold them out?
”I don’t feel bad at all. Why feel bad? They had agreed to it by being a part of Facebook.”
My last question to Bannon before I left him was more personal. I asked how he felt, learning that Trump called him ”Sloppy Steve” and said he ”lost his mind”.
”Zero. It’s Trump. With Trump every day is a different day. I couldn’t care less. I actually thought ‘Sloppy Steve’ was funny. If you’re going to be hurt by what Trump says on any given day you’re working with the wrong guy. Trust me, I’ve called guys ten times worse things. It doesn’t affect me at all,” he answered.
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Read more: From 2018/03/29