I had forgotten that I knew him. I’m a different field now, but after seeing his name and face all over the news it finally came back to me after nearly 20 years. I had business with Stephen Bannon, the newly appointed chief strategist to President-Elect Donald Trump. It didn’t go well. I want to share my experience and insights as way to contribute a small but perhaps telling detail into the nature of a little-known man who appears to wield immense influence on the coming administration.
People are alarmed by Bannon’s rise. He’s a racist, an anti-Semite, a woman-hater and a White Nationalist, they say. I don’t know if he is any of those things. The company he keeps and the content of the news site he owns speak for themselves. But, as to the man himself, he remains a mystery. What I can tell you for 100% certain, however, is that he’s an opportunistic asshole.
At the time, he was running a boutique investment bank in Beverly Hills. He specialized in financing deals for movie and television projects. I was putting together a deal to acquire a cable network. We had some pretty serious people lined up. Bannon’s group was interested in the deal, so we arranged for one of people, the former CFO of another major cable network, to fly from New York to Los Angeles to meet with Bannon. When we got to the meeting, Bannon was not there. He’d taken off. So, we called him on his car phone. He wasn’t paying much attention and we could barely hear him. The deal went nowhere.
It was embarrassing for me and my colleagues. It should have been embarrassing for Bannon but I suspect he didn’t even remember the incident by the end of the day. Just another “little person” blown off. Something more interesting had come up so he ditched a highly respected man who flew across the country to see him in person. That’s Stephen Bannon.
This isn’t much of a story, I realize. A few friends of mine had dealings with him, and they didn’t respect him too much, either. The significance of this incident, I think, is the way it reveals his true interest. He’s in the Stephen Bannon business. His actual beliefs are likely unimportant. If Trump can make him money and get him power, then he’s supportive of Trump. Does he actually believe all the stuff on Breitbart.com? I doubt it.
This is worrisome, however. It’s irrelevant if Stephen Bannon is a genuine racist or White Nationalist. Opportunists can be talked into doing all manner of despicable, harmful things if they think there’s something in it for them. That’s what’s troubles me.
Take Anti-Semitism, an issue that affects me directly. What would American Anti-Semitism look like under Trump? In my community, which is peopled with children of Holocaust survivors, there is fear of another Kristallnacht. This is unlikely in the extreme. What is possible, though, is a weakening of institutional protections.
For instance, what if White Supremacists take over the Cleveland Police Department. Will they investigate anti-Jewish hate crimes? Will a Trump Justice Department, advised by Stephen Bannon, encourage them to take action or ignore the problem? I think the answer is clear: whatever benefits Stephen Bannon will guide his decision. If it helps him to let Jews (or Blacks, or whomever) suffer, then there will be suffering. This is how opportunists support repression. They don’t have to believe in the cause because their only cause is themselves.