Donald Trump got one big decision wrong on Sunday, even as he got a smaller one right.
The one he got wrong? Choosing Stephen Bannon, head of the far-right, ethno-nationalist Breitbart News website, to be his chief strategist. Bannon, who helped lead Trump’s campaign, presided over Breitbart’s inflammatory coverage, which critics have called anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, misogynist and anti-black. One Breitbart headline called a GOP commentator a “renegade Jew,” while another story advised women who suffered online harassment to “just log off” so men can enjoy the internet. White nationalists of the so-called alt-right love it.
Trump also chose Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, as his chief of staff. But Bannon’s appointment took top billing in the press release, and he is said to be closer to Trump. Bannon will be Priebus’ equal, filling a powerful role that Karl Rove occupied under George W. Bush and David Axelrod served for President Barack Obama. If you can’t see why this is so appalling, consider the fact that former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke called the Bannon appointment “excellent” news.
Trump needs to steer away from his darker, more divisive impulses. Protesters would not be filling the streets against a President-Elect Cruz or Rubio.
Minorities and women are rightfully afraid of Trump’s rise, given his talk of Mexican rapists, Muslim terrorists and stop-and-frisk police tactics in the inner cities. His choice of Bannon suggests that Trump doesn’t fully appreciate (or doesn’t care about ) those fears. Those anxieties represent far more than just “bizarre hysteria,” as a Breitbart article put it Monday.
The Southern Poverty Law Center reports a spike of more than 200 complaints of hate crimes and harassment since the election – worse than what happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Social media is swirling with videos such as the one of white middle school kids taunting Latino classmates with chants of “build the wall!” Racist graffiti has appeared on cars belonging to minorities and churches that serve them.
And that brings us to the smaller, yet noteworthy, thing that Trump did right Sunday. When CBS’ Lesley Stahl asked him what he would say to the perpetrators of hate crimes and harassment, he replied “Stop it. ... I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
That’s good. Political leaders at every level should speak out, as well. Still, it’s just lip service if Trump doesn’t back it up with an emphatic denunciation of bigotry and hate in his inaugural address, followed by outreach in policy and in person to marginalized and dispossessed citizens who fear his rise.
He should also reconsider Bannon’s appointment. Surely the man who boasted that he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” without losing voters can discard a toxic aide without fear of recrimination.
Trump says he wants to unite the nation. His decision on Bannon tells us that’s just another empty sales pitch.