Personnel is policy, as they say in Washington. By that measure the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Donald Trump’s White House chief strategist marks a stunning watershed in US politics. As the chief enabler of the rise of the alt-right–via the hardline conservative Breitbart News, which Mr Bannon ran until he was tapped to head Mr Trump’s campaign–his elevation tells us a lot about how Mr Trump plans to govern.
Imagine if after his 2008 victory Barack Obama had appointed the Reverend Jeremiah Wright–his controversial former pastor and a fiery black nationalist–as senior White House counsellor and you get some flavour of the shock value. To put it bluntly, an ethno-nationalist will be at the heart of Mr Trump’s White House.
“I don’t think Bannon is alt-right in the way I would define it–but he is the closest we have,” said Richard Spencer, a leading alt-righter (who also coined the term), in an interview. “There was always the fear that Trump could be normalised–or that he would lose his ‘Trumpiness’. With Bannon as his chief strategist that is now much less likely.”
Mr Bannon will be in immediate conflict with Reince Priebus, the mainstream Republican who will be Mr Trump’s White House chief of staff. Crucially, Mr Bannon will be reporting directly to Mr Trump rather than to Mr Priebus, which will give him the chance to change the president’s mind on decisions already taken.
Just a day before Mr Bannon’s appointment, Breitbart News was gunning for the head of Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and close ally of Mr Pence. Mr Bannon will have to cut any formal ties to the news site once he takes up public office. But his influence will remain. “The arrow of history is not pointing towards Paul Ryan or Ayn Rand (libertarian) conservatism,” said Mr Spencer. “We are entering the age of American nationalism.”