In another sign that the Trump administration is moving toward greater stability and more traditional governance, the president last week signed an executive order removing White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council. Bannon’s appointment to the council and to its principals committee was roundly criticized as the infiltration of a radical nationalist political operative into the national security system — a toxic mixture. His removal solved that problem, and is seen as a sign of the growing influence of National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, an Army three-star general.
We believe it was a good move. Quite apart from an extreme ideology that makes us uncomfortable, Bannon was unqualified to serve in the NSC. He had no security experience, and his goal to be a revolutionary dismantler of government institutions had no place in the complex and delicate national security sphere.
The same executive order that ousted Bannon added Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, to the principals committee, along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
None of this means that Bannon is going to disappear. He won’t. He still retains a high-level position in the White House, with direct access to the president. And he remains a man whom many in the American Jewish community love to hate. But the diminution of his prestige, his ideas and his influence are important, since they signal the administration’s move away from the feared influence of the alt-right white nationalist movement with which he is identified.
Republican and right-wing Jews have sought to defend Bannon, partially with the argument that he is pro-Israel, perhaps derived from Bannon’s “Judeo-Christian” ethos. “Bannon is a champion for Israel and the opposite of an anti-Semite,” ZOA national president Morton Klein has said. And Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, used hearsay to support Bannon: “The people who have worked with Bannon … said there’s absolutely not an inch of an anti-Semitic bone in Steve Bannon’s body.”
Whether Bannon is an anti-Semite is beside the point. So too is his position on Israel. The question is, will Bannon’s demotion cool the romances between this administration and ultranationalist parties in Europe and with Russia that are viewed as a threat to liberal democracy? And will it also weaken the forces of bigotry — against immigrants, refugees, women, Muslims, the disabled, LGBT people, take your pick — that kept rising up during the presidential campaign?
If you reject Bannon’s dark vision in which conspiracies lurk behind everything that happens, and the assertion that the United States must hunker down behind walls and make bold threats in order to protect itself, then Bannon’s removal from the NSC is a sound move. We applaud it.