Opinion

President-elect Trump, Keep Steve Bannon and White Nationalism Out of the White House

We must not empower white nationalists who pose a clear and urgent threat to centuries of progress and the rights of millions of Americans. That is why I and 169 other members of Congress have asked for Bannon's appointment to be rescinded.

People protest the appointment of white nationalist alt-right media mogul, former Breitbart News head Steve Bannon, to be chief strategist of the White House.
David Mcnew, AFP

Whether intentional or not, President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to offer a White House appointment to Steve Bannon, a leader in the so-called alt-right movement, sends a disturbing message about what kind of president he plans to be.

As the Executive Chairman of Breitbart News, Mr. Bannon repeatedly and aggressively pushed a conservative news outlet in the direction of embracing anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and racism. During an interview last summer, he bragged that Breitbart had become “the platform for the alt-right,” a movement that upholds the tenets of white nationalism while strongly rejecting diversity in any form. 

Among the most egregious examples, during Mr. Bannon’s tenure Breitbart has referred to a leading Republican who opposed Mr. Trump as a “Renegade Jew,” suggested “Young Muslims in the West are a ticking time bomb,” declared that the “Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage,” and praised the alt-right as a “smarter” version of “old-school racist skinheads.”

Bigotry, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia should have no place in our society, and they certainly have no place in the White House. That’s why, Wednesday, I led 169 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in a letter asking that the President-elect rescind his decision to appoint Mr. Bannon as White House Chief Strategist.

Whether Mr. Trump listens to our request will speak volumes about the future of his presidency. On Election Night, the President-elect pledged “to bind the wounds of division” and help our country “come together as one united people” following one of the most divisive U.S. presidential campaigns in recent memory. 

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump’s election has already empowered white nationalists and their ilk, leading to an escalation of hate crimes committed against Muslim Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Jewish Americans in recent weeks. And the appointment of Mr. Bannon threatens to further undermine the possibility of healing our nation’s divisions, months before the President-elect has even taken the oath of office. 

While most Americans hope that Mr. Trump will take the steps necessary to bring our country together, his appointment of someone with well-documented ties to the white nationalist movement exacerbates and validates the concerns millions of Americans already have about how they will be treated under the Trump administration. That is why it is so important that he do the right thing, listen to the voices of millions of Americans, and keep Mr. Bannon far from the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

For 240 years, the United States of America has marched towards fulfilling the ideals of our founding documents – that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This process has not always been easy, it has been slow and treacherous at times, with setbacks and road bumps along the way, but we have always moved in the direction of justice and equality for all.

Bringing a white nationalist like Mr. Bannon into the White House is a clear and urgent threat to centuries of progress, and the rights of millions of Americans. 

The decision is Mr. Trump’s. But all Americans will feel the impact of his decision.

The President-elect should withdraw this appointment and find a Chief Strategist who will advance the interests of all Americans, not just a select few.

Congressman David N. Cicilline (D) is currently serving his third term representing Rhode Island’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and serves on the House Committees on the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs.