It’s been a few days since the White House issued an executive order regarding refugees and visa holders that generated just a wee bit of legal and political blowback. There seems to be a whole lot of confusion about how things went down and why. So let’s stipulate a few facts before speculating on some possible explanations.

FACT #1: This was Steve Bannon’s baby. We know from the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush that Bannon has gained greater influence over Trump at the expense of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and everyone else in the West Wing not related to Trump. Bannon’s appointment to the National Security Council has raised more than a few eyebrows, and it’s indicative of his influence….

FACT #2: This executive order was a bad idea that was incompetently drafted and executed….

FACT #3: Bannon is not a stupid guy. I have talked to a number of people who have known Bannon through the years, and they all say the same thing: Regardless of what you think of his ideology, he is an extremely intelligent individual.

Those are the facts, and yet it seems difficult to reconcile all three of them. What’s happening?

Kevin Drum (the blogosphere pioneer) writes:

In cases like this, the smart money is usually on incompetence, not malice. But this looks more like deliberate malice to me. Bannon wanted turmoil and condemnation. He wanted this executive order to get as much publicity as possible. He wanted the ACLU involved. He thinks this will be a PR win….

[B]oth sides think that maximum exposure is good for them. Liberals think middle America will be appalled at Trump’s callousness. Bannon thinks middle America will be appalled that lefties and the elite media are taking the side of terrorists. After a week of skirmishes, this is finally a hill that both sides are willing to die for. Who’s going to win?

Today the New York Times broke new ground. The usually reserved Editorial Board published something starkly ominous: “PRESIDENT BANNON?”

This lead editorial is the most explosive editorial I’ve ever read in the New York Times. It seems as if ripped from the pages of the Times in the 1930s warning the world about Hitler. It is a must read and has deadly ramifications for the USA.

Trump’s UN-American, in fact ANTI-American regime must be stopped is the Times’ clear message. Instead of an American circa 2017 the Times might be describing the rise of Russian Grigori Rasputin.

Rasputin was a Russian peasant, and mystical faith healer, and trusted friend of the family of Nicholas II, the last Tsar of the Russian Empire. he became an influential figure in Saint Petersburg, especially after August 1915 when Nicholas took command of the army fighting in World War I. Rasputin’s influence over the Tsar and his family  increased the unpopularity of the Imperial couple and helped destroy the family and ultimately Russia.

I was thinking of Rasputin as I read the lead editorial in the Times. The editors wrote:

Mr. Bannon supercharged Breitbart News as a platform for inciting the alt-right, did the same with the Trump campaign and is now repeating the act with the Trump White House itself. That was perhaps to be expected, though the speed with which President Trump has moved to alienate Mexicans (by declaring they would pay for a border wall), Jews (by disregarding their unique experience of the Holocaust) and Muslims (the ban) has been impressive. Mr. Trump never showed much inclination to reach beyond the minority base of voters that delivered his Electoral College victory, and Mr. Bannon, whose fingerprints were on each of those initiatives, is helping make sure he doesn’t.

But a new executive order, politicizing the process for national security decisions, suggests Mr. Bannon is positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president.

In “Malevolence Tempered by Incompetence: Trump’s Horrifying Executive Order on Refugees and Visas” Benjamin Wittes (editor in chief of Lawfare and a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution) writes:

Put simply, I don’t believe that the stated purpose is the real purpose. This is the first policy the United States has adopted in the post-9/11 era about which I have ever said this. It’s a grave charge, I know, and I’m not making it lightly. But in the rational pursuit of security objectives, you don’t marginalize your expert security agencies and fail to vet your ideas through a normal interagency process. You don’t target the wrong people in nutty ways when you’re rationally pursuing real security objectives.

When do you do these things? You do these things when you’re elevating the symbolic politics of bashing Islam over any actual security interest. You do them when you’ve made a deliberate decision to burden human lives to make a public point. In other words, this is not a document that will cause hardship and misery because of regrettable incidental impacts on people injured in the pursuit of a public good. It will cause hardship and misery for tens or hundreds of thousands of people because that is precisely what it is intended to do….

Even while he was preparing to sign the order itself, he declared, “This is the ‘Protection of the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.’ We all know what that means.” Indeed, we do. …

Many years ago, the great constitutional law scholar Charles Black Jr., contemplating the separate but equal doctrine, asked:

“[D]oes segregation offend against equality? Equality, like all general concepts, has marginal areas where philosophic difficulties are encountered. But if a whole race of people finds itself confined within a system which is set up and continued for the very purpose of keeping it in an inferior station, and if the question is then solemnly propounded whether such a race is being treated “equally,” I think we ought to exercise one of the sovereign prerogatives of philosophers—that of laughter.”

I think we can, without drawing any kind of equivalence between this order and Jim Crow, make a similar point here: Is this document a reasonable security measure?

Bannon/Rasputin is Trump’s most influential adviser. He’s whispering in Trump’s ear. Arguably he’s the man running the country and is thus an unexpected and undetected stealth weapon of chaos.

Bannon is a radical white nationalist whose main objective, as he has openly admitted, is to blow everything up. He hates America as it is. Bannon/Rasputin is out to use a fool–Trump–to destroy the existing social and political order.


P.S. If you want to know a little more about where I’m coming from and my perspective on politics, religion and the intersection of faith and life– here’s a new movie about me. (It’s below the poster on YouTube) scroll down and watch it for free…


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Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book —WHY I AM AN ATHEIST WHO BELIEVES IN GOD: How to give love, create beauty and find peace

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