Thus far the Trump transition appears to be messier than usual. This seems to be due to a lack of contingency planning building by Team Trump. The lack of planning is probably due to a number of factors, not the least of which is that Trump went out of his way to attack the Republican establishment throughout the campaign. So Trump didn’t have much of a bench to turn to. A second factor is that Team Trump was probably as surprised as everyone when he actually emerged victorious. So it is not surprising that there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm for transition pre-planning.
It seems pretty obvious that when Trump named New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to chair his transition committee it was largely to get him out of the way. Then, after two of his top aides were convicted in the Bridgegate affair he was done for. First, he was ousted from his position as chair of the transition team. Next, key figures on the team seen as close to Christie were purged, reportedly at the urging of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law.
There is a history here. When he was U.S. Attorney, Christie put Kushner’s father in jail for tax evasion and witness tampering. And Christie used the case to boost his chances for the Governor’s mansion. So perhaps Christie should be dusting off his resume right about now.
The Matter of Steve Bannon
Trump’s appointment of provocateur Steve Bannon to the post of chief strategist has produced a torrent of outrage on the left, unease among establishment Republicans and joy among the lunatic fringe. Bannon, took over as CEO at Breitbart News after Andrew Breitbart died suddenly in March 2012. Breitbart was an iconoclast who described himself as a Reagan conservative with libertarian sympathies.
After Bannon took over, the website began to veer toward coverage that seemed sympathetic to white supremacists and anti-Semites. Right now there is a legitimate debate over whether Bannon is an anti-Semite and whether or not he has deliberately stoked-up racial animosities. Alan Dershowitz, for one, says that there is insufficient evidence to hurl such an epithet.
And some of the coverage has been sloppy. For example take the uproar over the Breitbart opinion piece that labeled Bill Kristol a “renegade Jew” in the headline. That story (and headline) were actually authored by David Horiwitz (who is Jewish and an iconoclast). The last paragraph of the piece lambasted Kristol, a Never Trumper, for being insufficiently concerned about Jewish and Israeli interests. Hardly a case of anti-Semitism.
But let’s not be naïve about this. There has been a marked rise in the lunatic fringe in general, and anti-Semitism in particular. The divestiture movement is without question an attempt to de-legitimate the state of Israel. And the Black Lives Matter movement has been vociferous in its support of the divestiture effort, referring to Israel as an “apartheid” State, and accusing it of genocide against the Palestinian people, along with (of course) the U.S.
What is new is the apparent re-emergence of right-wing anti-Semitism, which had long been tamped down, beginning with William F Buckley, when he read anti-Semites, Birchers and the rest out of the conservative movement.
Whether Bannon (or any other senior official) is racist, an anti-Semite, a white supremacist or some other type of lunatic is (and ought to be) a question that needs to be asked and answered. That said there is no question—none—that Bannon’s “news” organization traffics in unbridled nonsense and ought to be taken about as seriously as the National Enquirer.
While there should be no doubt that a lot of self-dealing and score settling is going on under cover of the transition, the Trump administration-in-waiting owes it to the American people to clear this up by having Bannon denounce anti-Semitism, racism and white supremacy, and by making him available for a televised press conference. That should disabuse fringe groups of the idea that they have a special communications line, or any communications line for that matter, to the White House. Otherwise there will be a well-deserved cloud hanging over Trump and his Presidency when he takes the oath of office just two short months from now.