Steve Bannon is gone. Good.
Sebastian Gorka is gone. Good.
The departures of Donald Trump's chief strategist and counterterrorism adviser were newsworthy. And consequential. The exits of Bannon and Gorka removed a pair of right-wing extremists from Trump's inner circle at a time when Americans are starting to wake up to the fact that this president has assembled an administration that is far too friendly toward racists, xenophobes and those who would divide American against itself.
But anyone who thinks that this administration is no longer guided by allies of the worst elements within the alt-right is living in a dream world. Unless you think that Donald Trump is an unthinking automaton who really does take his cues from the last person he talks with — a silly fantasy that misses the entire point of this dangerous man and his even more dangerous presidency — then it is vital to recognize the game he is playing.
The partings of company with Bannon and Gorka represent a move by the president to distance himself from the guy who made the Breitbart media empire "a platform for the alt-right" and from the guy whose Muslim-bashing rhetoric (and pattern of troublesome intersections with European far-right and neo-fascist groups) made him a favorite of American extremists. But please recognize that Bannon and Gorka, who appear to be headed back into the Breitbart orbit, are going easy on Trump — suggesting, as Gorka did on Sunday, that the president is "not being well-served" by more mainstream aides who are working "in direct contravention of everything that we voted for November the 8th."
What's up? Bannon and Gorka know that Trump agrees with them on a host of issues. The president did not bring them into the White House naively, and he has not sent them away naively. Trump said he came up with his viscerally divisive response to the Charlottesville violence — apportioning shared blame to racists and opponents of racism — on his own. And he pardoned Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a crude bigot who was convicted of criminal contempt after he refused to stop racially profiling Latinos, after Bannon had departed and as Gorka was marching out.
Bannon and Gorka also know that there are still people who agree with them inside the administration. The truest believer in the nationalist project, and in the merging of that project with the Trump administration, remains well within the Trump circle. Indeed, he is speaking for the president — as bizarrely as ever.
Stephen Miller continues as Trump's senior policy adviser, with (as Vanity Fair recently described it) "his own West Wing and a seat at the table during crucial decisions." Miller had a hand in writing the president's incendiary inaugural address, helped craft and promote the Muslim ban, and has drawn praise from Trump for declaring on national television that "the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned."
Miller just turned 32, yet he has spent the better part of two decades on the far-right fringe, ranting and raving against Latinos and Muslims, immigrants and "cosmopolitans," a favorite term of mid-20th century totalitarians for worldly wise citizens who were considered insufficiently nationalistic. A son of privilege raised by wealthy California real estate investors, he embraced economic elitism — "Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?” Miller asked fellow high schoolers — and white nationalism at a very young age, in addition to griping about lesbians and gays, Native Americans and Hispanics. "(Miller) wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country. At 16, Stephen was an extreme nationalist," said a former classmate.
At Duke University he claimed that members of the lacrosse team who were the subject of a rape inquiry had been persecuted "because they were white and their accuser black.” He badgered professors he thought were too left-wing. He coordinated a project that promoted “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week." And he traveled in the same circles as Richard Spencer, a Duke graduate student who would go on to become one of the nation's most prominent white supremacists; Spencer has told reporters he "mentored" Miller at Duke and hails the Trump aide as a "strong American nationalist." Miller has claimed, rather artfully, that "I have absolutely no relationship with Mr. Spencer."
But white nationalists such as Jared Taylor continue to hail Miller — and the White House aide's former boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions. While Taylor complained after Trump's inauguration that the president was "not a racially conscious white man," the white supremacist praised "men close to him," including Sessions and Miller, for their "clearer understanding of race."
Sessions may not be as close as he once was to Trump, but Miller is still on the inside. That's why members of Congress reject the notion that this president and his administration have progressed. While Trump finally got around to criticizing white supremacists, Congressional Progressives Caucus Co-chair Mark Pocan, D-town of Vermont, notes that the president is still giving Miller "a platform to advance (his) dangerous and hateful worldview and political agenda.”
Along with the chairs of the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Pocan is calling for Miller's immediate removal from the White House.
Pocan is right. Miller's removal (along with the exits of Bannon and Gorka) would represent an initial step in the right direction. To be clear, however, the work will not be done until the man who hired them is gone.
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