November 17, 2016

Is Bannon the Worst Thing About Trump?

Make America Great Again hat (27149010964)
By Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
I am not sure I understand why many in the mainstream news media seem to have decided that Donald Trump's unusual approach to the transition is such a big story. I mean, one cannot very well elect someone with no experience in any sort of public service and then be surprised when they do things a bit differently from everyone else. Wasn't much of his appeal due to his outsider status?

I get that many are particularly upset about Stephen Bannon, but I cannot help thinking that Trump's refusal to release his tax returns, the nepotism involving his children, and the massive conflict of interest around his business, and a handful of other issues are more important stories at this stage of the process. Suppose that those most opposed to Bannon get what they want and he is removed from Trump's transition team. That would be a step in the right direction, but would it really change the fact that Trump picked him? If Trump were to fire Bannon in response to public pressure, would it really indicate that he had changed his mind on anything of substance?

One of the ways many Trump supporters justified their support for someone with zero political experience was by convincing themselves that even if Trump did not know what he was doing, he would surround himself with people who did. His business experience, they reasoned, would lead him to select excellent advisors and utilize them effectively. This makes who Trump selects even more relevant than it might otherwise be, and it seems fairly clear that he's off to an incredibly poor start. Who someone in this position picks as his advisors almost certainly tells us something about him, and Trump's picks to date are telling us nothing positive. Bannon is a prime example of Trump's poor judgment.

Trump's choice of Bannon deserves attention because it tells us something about Trump. And yet, I cannot help suspecting that the damage has already been done. If Trump fires Bannon now, I suppose it would be a small but largely symbolic victory. I seriously doubt whether even firing and then repudiating Bannon would change many minds on Trump. It seems to be too late for that.

I also suspect that the calls for Trump to renounce sexism, racism, xenophobia, and various other forms of bigotry are misplaced. Few on the left would believe he was sincere, and some on the right would likely interpret him doing so as a sign of weakness. I'm not sure what Trump would gain. More importantly, I'm not sure what the rest of us would gain if we would not believe him anyway. I realize that we often seem to want people to lie to us, but I'm unclear what this accomplishes. If Trump really has a change of heart, wonderful! Until then, why would anyone want him to issue an insincere apology or denounce things he might not believe should be denounced?

I suppose I wish that our news media would focus a bit more on the growing number of signs pointing to the possibility that our next president fully intends to use his position to enrich himself, his family, and his political allies at our collective expense. After the U.S. Supreme Court essentially legalized political corruption, it is unclear whether we even have laws to prevent this. If we don't, are efforts underway to change that? I realize there are many stories competing for time, but this one strikes me as more relevant than some of the others. Then again, I suppose there are many from which one might choose.

What do you think? Is Bannon really the worst thing Trump has done or indicated that he plans to do so far? Is that where our outrage should be focused, or are there other issues of equal or greater importance?