Steve Bannon, 63, is the Chief Strategist of the president, and who since January 28, 2017, serves as a regular attendee of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.
In short, he is the man with the "strategic vision" for the United States in this presidency.
In this role, with regard to the great questions facing our culture, questions which have been playing out over many years already, and will continue to play out after this administration is over, Bannon may be even more important than Trump himself.
This former head of Breitbart News (where he succeeded the news agency's founder, Andrew Breitbart, after Breitbart's sudden death at age 43) is a soft-spoken Virginian, born in Norfolk into a working-class Irish Catholic family. His father was a telephone lineman.
He studied at Virginia Tech, graduating in 1976 with a degree in urban planning.
He then became an officer in the United States Navy for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, serving on the destroyer USS Paul F. Foster as a Surface Warfare Officer in the Pacific Fleet, and stateside as a special assistant to the Chief of Naval Operations at the Pentagon.
He earned his master's degree in National Security Studies from Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, then attended Harvard Business School, earning an MA in business administration.
He joined Goldman Sachs in their department of mergers and acquisitions. He soon founded his own company, Bannon and Company, and soon made a small fortune on what was in part a "lucky break" -- as part of the sale of Castle Rock Entertainment to Ted Turner, he obtained serial rights to five television shows, including the Seinfeld series, which turned out to be quite lucrative. He sold Bannon and Company in 1998.
In the 1990s, he became an executive film producer in Hollywood, producing 18 films. After making a documentary about Ronald Reagan in 2004, his film-making began to become more political, including a film on Sarah Palin called The Undefeated.
In those years, he became a founding member of Breitbart News, a conservative web-based news agency. After the death of Andre Breitbart in 2012, Bannon succeeded him as executive chairman, and so became a leader of the global news business with an agenda: "We think of ourselves as virulently anti-establishment," Bannon once said, "particularly 'anti-' the permanent political class."
I met and came to know Bannon when he spend several days in Rome two years ago. We spoke at some length about the Vatican, Church history in general and the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI in particular, and also about Russia and the authenticity and possible meaning of that country's spiritual renewal in the past 25 years.
Since he became Trump's "idea guy" a few months ago, Bannon has been much more in the public eye than ever before.
In order to understand Bannon, it seems fitting to study a talk that he gave in the summer of 2014 to a conference held inside the Vatican. (full text printed below)
In these unusually in-depth remarks, Bannon makes the following 10 key points. I quote from his talk:
(1) "The underlying principle is an enlightened form of capitalism... That capitalism really generated tremendous wealth. And that wealth was really distributed among a middle class, a rising middle class, people who come from really working-class environments and created what we really call a Pax Americana. It was many, many years and decades of peace."
(2) "It’s a very unpleasant topic, but we are in an outright war against jihadist Islamic fascism. And this war is, I think, metastasizing far quicker than governments can handle it."
(3) "One thing I want to make sure of, 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."
(4) "The central thing that binds that all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos."
(5) "And so the fight here — and that’s why the media’s been very late to this party — but the fight you’re seeing is between entrepreneur capitalism... and the people like the corporatists that are closer to the people like we think in Beijing and Moscow than they are to the entrepreneurial capitalist spirit of the United States."
(6) "That’s why to me, it’s incumbent upon freedom-loving people to make sure that we sort out these governments and make sure that we sort out particularly this crony capitalism so that the benefits become more of this entrepreneurial spirit and that can flow back to working-class and middle-class people."
(7) "We have to face a very unpleasant fact. And that unpleasant fact is that there is a major war brewing [with the Islamic Caliphate], a war that’s already global. It’s going global in scale, and today’s technology, today’s media, today’s access to weapons of mass destruction, it’s going to lead to a global conflict that I believe has to be confronted today."
(8) "When Vladimir Putin, when you really look at some of the underpinnings of some of his beliefs today, a lot of those come from what I call Eurasianism; he’s got an adviser who harkens back to Julius Evola and different writers of the early 20th century who are really the supporters of what’s called the traditionalist movement, which really eventually metastasized into Italian fascism."
(9) "I’m not justifying Vladimir Putin and the kleptocracy that he represents, because he eventually is the state capitalist of kleptocracy. However, we the Judeo-Christian West really have to look at what he’s talking about as far as traditionalism goes — particularly the sense of where it supports the underpinnings of nationalism — and I happen to think that the individual sovereignty of a country is a good thing and a strong thing. I think strong countries and strong nationalist movements in countries make strong neighbors, and that is really the building blocks that built Western Europe and the United States, and I think it’s what can see us forward."
(10) "And I would ask everybody in the audience today, because you really are the movers and drivers and shakers and thought leaders in the Catholic Church today, is to think, when people 500 years from now are going to think about today, think about the actions you’ve taken — and I believe everyone associated with the Church and associated with the Judeo-Christian West that believes in the underpinnings of that and believes in the precepts of that and want to see that bequeathed to other generations down the road as it was bequeathed to us, particularly as you’re in a city like Rome, and in a place like the Vatican, see what’s been bequeathed to us — ask yourself, 500 years from today, what are they going to say about me? What are they going to say about what I did at the beginning stages of this crisis?"
So Bannon says that he supports the great insitutions and accomplishments of the Judeo-Christian West, and wants to fight to preserve them; that he rejects the crony financial capitalism which is hurting the middle class and the working man in the West and around the world, and that he wants to have more economic justice; and that he is very concerned about the rise of radical, militant Islam.
And these three key ideas seem to be the key ideas that lie behind the decisions of the Trump administration during its first 10 days in office.
Robert Moynihan PhD is the editor of Inside the Vatican.