Opinion |

Trump Needs a Holy War

It's an inconceivably scary thought that the Trump administration is simply winging it, breakneck, disrupting and detonating and taking America apart - and all of it without a plan. But here's the even scarier possibility - that there is, in fact, a plan.

Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston
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U.S. President Donald Trump walks through the White House on his way to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, January 31, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump walks through the White House on his way to nominate Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, January 31, 2017.Credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP
Bradley Burston
Bradley Burston

It's an inconceivably scary thought that the Trump administration is simply winging it, breakneck, disrupting and detonating and taking America apart - and all of it without a plan.

But here's the even scarier possibility - that there is, in fact, a plan.

A plan which would dramatically concentrate and expand Donald Trump's power, inflame and mobilize his base, whip up and and leverage racism, Islamophobia and, at a later stage, if needed, anti-Semitism, in order to slough all shortcomings onto scapegoats.

He needs a war.

He needs a war to reconcile the contradictions of a populist and extravagantly self-contradictory election campaign, in which he vowed to rebuild the military to historic levels while also slashing government spending. He needs the kind of war that could make good his vows to revive heavy industrial manufacturing and the mining of "beautiful coal."

A war would free him to green-light mammoth corporate monopolies, and to provide the ultimate pretext, the emergency imperative, for abrogating on a massive scale the most basic of constitutional guarantees to individual freedoms - gun ownership excepted.

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A war would underscore his contentions that his critics are weak, his rivals myopic, liberals perverse, immigrants suspect, leftists metastases, journalists -Fox News and Breitbart excepted - subversive, anti-American, knowingly and treasonously and shrewdly deceitful.

A war would make it clear that it's not mass casualty shootings by loner white males that makes Americans unsafe. It is, rather, the specter of the swarthy Muslim we have never met, which should keep us up at night - even if that Muslim is in actual life a saint among physicians or a decorated former brother-in-arms of U.S. troops overseas.

Donald Trump needs a war. But not just any war. He needs just the right global non-Christian, all-powerful, all-frightening, non-white, non-negotiable enemy.

He needs a Holy War.

And he needs a doomsday weapon he can rely on. As it happens, he already has one. It's called Steve Bannon. And Steve Bannon, ideologue, impresario, scorcher of Republican earth, has been talking Holy War for years.

In a speech to a Christian conference held in the Vatican in the summer of 2014, Bannon declared that "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, but to fight for our beliefs against this new barbarity that’s starting, that will completely eradicate everything that we’ve been bequeathed over the last 2,000, 2,500 years."

At the time, Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs banker, headed the far-right, white nationalist-friendly Breitbart News, and was also a producer and director of films.

"We're now, I believe, at the beginning stages of a global war against Islamic fascism," he said.

National security analyst Robert Baer said Tuesday that the Bannon speech sounded "like preaching for the First Crusade."

If it is to be war, though, Trump and Bannon's headlong rush to fulfil a campaign promise to bar entry to Muslims, could actually make future U.S. military operations much more risky.

Referring to the Friday presidential Executive Order which severely curbed immigration and entry from seven mostly Muslim countries, an order which Bannon is reported to have drafted without consultation with the office of the Attorney General nor with the Defense, Homeland Security, or State Departments, Baer said the ban could cripple U.S. intelligence gathering and America's standing throughout the Mideast and the Islamic world.

"We are less safe," Baer told CNN. "These bans are going to get Americans killed."

"None of this makes sense. We're going to lose allies, and 99 percent of our intelligence in the Middle East comes from allies, from Iraqis, from Syrians." The ban could cause an Iraqi parliament to expel the 5,000 U.S. troops serving in the country in response, further hampering the battle against terrorists, he added.

If war is in the cards, Trump clearly wants Bannon in the dealer's seat.

On Saturday night, amid the bedlam generated by the travel ban, as well as condemnations of Trump's having marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day while refraining from any mention of Jews, the president named Bannon to the key Principals Committee of the National Security Council, at the same time dropping as regular members the chairman of the joint chiefs and the director of national intelligence.

According to Baer, "they're going to set up a parallel intelligence service, and that's why the director of national intelligence was thrown off, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff was thrown off.

"They're going to find their own facts. Alternate facts. It's what they've done so far, and it's going to get worse. And I just don't trust Bannon to figure this out. He has no experience in policy, no experience in government agencies," Baersaid. "There's nothing more impervious to reason than political fantasy, and that's what Bannon represents."

The 2014 Bannon speech to the Christian conference bears close study. Not only does it predict the imminence and inevitability of a war pitting Christianity against Islam, it obliquely suggests that Jews could find themselves a target for U.S. Christian anger somewhere down the road.

When he worked at Goldman Sachs, Bannon says in the speech, he could see that "there are people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run."

A few minutes later, Bannon exuberantly responds to a question about the 2014 Republican primary defeat of then-House majority leader Eric Cantor - at the time, the sole Jewish Republican in either the House or Senate.

Bannon, calling Cantor's defeat "monumental" and "the biggest election upset in the history of the American republic," speaksvat length about how much money Cantor had raised for the campaign, comparing it to the modest amount raised by his victorious opponent, Tea Party candidate David Brat - whom Bannon does not name, but does point out that he is an evangelical Christian.

"And the reason that this guy won," Bannon said, "is quite simple: Middle-class people and working-class people are tired of people like Eric Cantor who say they’re conservative, selling out their interests every day to crony capitalists."

The speech sets out others of Bannon's goals as well, one of which Trump began to fulfill in one of his first acts as president:

"On the social conservative side, we’re the voice of the anti-abortion movement, the voice of the traditional marriage movement, and I can tell you we’re winning victory after victory after victory. Things are turning around as people have a voice and have a platform of which they can use."

The war may not be underway just yet, but the Crusade certainly is. The Muslim Ban was just the staging area. The first target of conquest is already in sight: the Supreme Court.

And what about real war? Trump may well consider it a positive option precisely because he has no clue in world what it's like. What the horror of war means to the people whose lives are destroyed by it, whether they physically survive or not.

He thinks he does. He's seen wars won against racial discrimination claims and non-payment of working people. He's fought and won wars against humility, civility, humaneness, basic human moral conduct.

His only experience with military service is evading it.

His only experience with the innocent victims of war, is sending them back to Syria, then going to bed with that satisfied smile on his face.

God help us all

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