I’m onto you, Stephen Bannon. I know where you come from: Richmond, Virginia, the city on a hill by the James River, where the slave trade sailed in and out. You’re Old South, without the charm, still fighting the Yankees.
A day into Donald Trump’s reign, the Rev. Jesse Jackson presciently put his finger on what felt wrong with the crowd taking over Washington: “They are Confederates,” he said.
Old Virginny has a long memory since the Civil War ended — if it ever did.
In fact, White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, a son of the South, lost no time in waging war on the federal government from within. Wielding the budget knife at the National Institutes of Health, the State Department and National Endowment for the Arts are skirmishes in what will soon be a siege.
Trump’s Cabinet appointments showed Bannon’s diabolical design in finding people — white men, mostly — who oppose their own agency’s missions. Public education, housing, health care, justice and environmental protection are all on the rocks.
Hundreds of political appointee and expert positions have gone unfilled in the new administration. This is starving the body, shrinking the nation’s healthy vibrance, except for the military and homeland security.
Across the world, ambassadors were abruptly told to resign. Top diplomatic posts, secretary of state and U.S. ambassador to the U.N. were given to people with no foreign policy experience, Rex Tillerson and Nikki Haley. The disrespect to the world community is quite intentional.
That is precisely what Bannon meant by the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Deconstruction rhymes with “reconstruction,” and the choice of words may be significant, 152 years on.
The post-Civil War Reconstruction program imposed on the South was a military occupation for an impoverished, proud and bitter people. Reconstruction was also an effort to bring political participation to formerly enslaved people, which enraged whites across the board.
Many swore to hate the Yankees and to teach their children the same lesson. The Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow emerged from this ugly period, after the Yankees withdrew in 1877.
Singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” takes you back to burning days of spring 1865, Steve. The Confederate capital, Richmond, fell. Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, fled. Old Virginian Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Courthouse. The “country” was no more.
This is where Bannon’s own bitter language becomes more revealing. For him, the press is not a sacred part of our federal constitution, but rather a foil for the Yankees.
Listen to his fighting words about the media: “If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight you are sadly mistaken.” In my analysis, he is deep down speaking of the antebellum South as a lost country. The war, vicarious but real, is on.
Bannon’s fingerprints are also on Trump’s “carnage” inaugural address, a word that sped across a half-empty Mall. That weird word caused blunt force trauma to the ears of everyone trying to make believe Trump would lay down his arms after a brutal campaign. As we’ve seen, that was but a prelude.
In Trump, Bannon has found the perfect doer and violent actor for his ambitions. Trump is not Southern, but cleverly Bannon convinced him that President Andrew Jackson is his alter ego.The fierce Jackson was a great general, a slave plantation owner and a populist. (But he hated talk of secession. Jackson was a Union man.)
I discussed Bannon with Democratic Congressman Elijah Cummings who represents Baltimore. He protested against segregated swimming pools as a child.
“A guy named Bannon,” Cummings said in the Speaker’s Lobby. “The idea that a president has the nerve to have a white supremacist in the White House.” It’s upsetting in 2017, he added.
“I don’t want my children to fight the same fights my grandparents did,” Cummings said.
Hours later, at the Washington National Cathedral, a panel discussed where to remove images of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from two stained glass windows.
Take ’em down to the West Wing. They were dedicated the year Bannon was born, 1953. What a perfect way of getting even with the Yankees.