Bannonism is back.
At least that’s the none-too-subtle message of President Donald Trump’s speech in Warsaw, Poland on Thursday, where the business mogul outlined a dark, dualistic vision of “the West” that almost perfectly matched that of his infamous senior adviser Steve Bannon.
The scope of Bannon’s influence on the president’s policies has been open question since April, when Trump appeared to cast aspersions on his aide. Some even speculated the former Breitbart editor was being pushed out of the White House, a byproduct of the legal and public relations woes created by the Muslim ban he helped design.
But Axios reported earlier this week that Trump has warmed to Bannon once again, a notion all but confirmed during the president’s latest speech in Europe. To be sure, the speech was reportedly written primarily by Stephen Miller, and Trump delivered his remarks using own his trademark hyperbole. But Bannon and Miller have played off each other before, and Bannon has a long history of working to extend his influence.
So perhaps it’s unsurprising that Trump’s core message — blasting NATO, suggesting that “the West” is under siege from several threats, and insisting Europe must take certain steps to “defend” itself — bears a striking resemblance to a speech Bannon gave to a Vatican conference in 2014.
“Trump delivered his remarks using his trademark hyperbole, but his core message…appears to be lifted directly from a 2014 speech Bannon delivered to a Vatican conference.”
Bannon, a traditionalist Catholic, delivered what is widely considered the best window into his worldview 3 years ago to a gathering organized the Institute for Human Dignity — a right-wing European group that champions Christian and Jewish politicians who want speak to their faith in the public sphere. Speaking via Skype, he argued passionately that the “Judeo-Christian West” was in “crisis” because it is beset by at least three forces: “unenlightened” forms of capitalism, “jihadist Islamic fascism,” and creeping secularism.
“I believe we’ve come partly off track in the years since the fall of the Soviet Union and we’re starting now in the 21st century, which I believe, strongly, is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism,” he said.
Trump’s address echoed this dire narrative, as well as Bannon’s embrace of religiously fueled nationalism (an increasingly common theme in Trump’s rhetoric). When waxing poetic about Poland’s history, for example, Trump harped on the country’s deeply Catholic heritage, recounting the story of when Pope John Paul II — who was Polish — convened mass in front of a sprawling crowd in what was then Communist Poland. It was a moment of ecstatic faith, Trump argued, that gave the Polish people the strength to topple their leadership.
A million Polish people did not ask for wealth. They did not ask for privilege. Instead, 1 million Poles saying three simple words: “We want God.’’ In those words, the Polish people recalled the promise of a better future…
As I stand here today before this incredible crowd, this faithful nation, we can still hear those voices that echo through history. Their message is as true today as ever. The people of Poland, the people of America and the people of Europe still cry out, “We want God.’’ Together with Pope John Paul II, the Poles reasserted their identity as a nation devoted to God. And with that powerful declaration of who you are, you came to understand what to do and how to live.
While Trump is playing fast and loose with some facts here (“We want God” appears to have been a line in John Paul II’s homily, not a spontaneous cry from the masses), it is true that John Paul II was an opponent of Communism in Eastern Europe, and he is credited with helping to dismantle its hold on the region — especially in Poland. But Trump transforms that (somewhat contested) history into a model for the rest of Europe, suggesting that embracing God is a core part of what it means to be European and Western.
“We put faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, at the center of our lives,” Trump said, paraphrasing a line he has used in the U.S. to promote his own unique form of Christian nationalism.
Bannon, for his part, has been making this exact same argument or years.
“We’re at the very beginning stages of a very brutal and bloody conflict, of which if the people in this room, the people in the church, do not bind together and really form what I feel is an aspect of the church militant, to really be able to not just stand with our beliefs…[it] will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years,” Bannon said in 2014.
Trump goes on to outline the need to resist “dire threats to our security and to our way of life,” specifically pointing to “radical Islamic terrorism” and praising his own speech to Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia that focused on issues of terrorism.
We are confronted by another oppressive ideology, one that seeks to export terrorism and extremism all around the globe.
America and others have suffered one terror attack after another. We’re going to get it to stop…
While we will always welcome new citizens who share our values and love our people, our borders will always be closed to terrorism and extremism of any kind.
We are fighting hard against radical Islamic terrorism.
And we will prevail.
Bannon was equally as alarmist — but noticeably less optimistic — during his 2014 speech.
“[ISIS talks about] turning the United States into a ‘river of blood’ if it comes in and tries to defend the city of Baghdad,” he said. “That is going to come to Central Europe, it’s going to come to Western Europe, it’s going to come to the United Kingdom. And so I think we are in a crisis of the underpinnings of capitalism, and on top of that we’re now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism.”
Finally, Bannon and Trump both voiced what they perceived to be economic dangers, although it’s unclear how much they overlap. Bannon listed broad, systemic concerns in 2014, lamenting the emergence government-run “crony capitalism” and certain forms of libertarianism that “make people commodities.”
Trump, on the other hand, raised a far more specific issued on Thursday: government regulations on businesses.
“Finally, on both sides of the Atlantic, our citizens are confronted by yet another danger, one firmly within our control,” he said. “This danger is invisible to some but familiar to the Poles: the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people. The West became great, not because of paperwork and regulations, but because people were allowed to chase their dreams and pursue their destinies.”
While Miller might have held the pen for the Poland speech, the influence of Bannon, implicit or otherwise, is unmistakable. When it comes to U.S. foreign policy in Europe, Bannonism looks like it’s not going anywhere.