PARIS—Never mind that the French cable television report on Stephen Bannon made him look like one of the winos living on grates in Paris, or that it compared Bannon, Donald Trump’s grizzled éminence grise and newly-named White House chief strategist, to Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief Josef Goebbels.
And never mind the program’s citations of rampant sexism on Bannon’s pseudo-news service, Breitbart. All he had to do in that clip was say he’d like to expand Breitbart’s operations to France and allude to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen as “the new rising star” on the French version of the alt-right and she started gushing on Twitter in English:
Interestingly, the citations from Bannon on that broadcast by the mainstream LCI network did not mention Marine Le Pen, the 48-year-old woman who has turned her father’s fringe right-wing party, the National Front, into the most dynamic and aggressive political force in the country.
The reference cited was to “the Le Pen women” generally, as if there were so many, and then to the comely Marion, a member of the French parliament who is only 26 years old and has the xanthachroidal allure of a younger Ann Coulter or Laura Ingraham.
Must be something in the air, l’esprit du temps, as they say. Let’s take a breath and look at what’s really going on here.
Bannon’s support for European far-right parties runs far deeper than his interest in Marion Maréchal-Le Pen or the National Front. He brags about his international Breitbart operation as “the platform” for the American alt-right, and has for years been thinking globally, with an affinity for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Alternative for Germany (AfD), and the Party for Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands, all of which have earned glowing coverage on the pages of Breitbart.
But the election of Bannon’s man Donald Trump as president of the United States has made the globalization of Breitbart and its message infinitely more plausible than it ever was before, and politicians once considered Europe’s deplorables are now rushing to bask in the gilded glow of Trump and Bannon.
On Saturday, Britain’s Nigel Farage, whose blatant and acknowledged lies helped convince his countrymen to opt out of the European Union in the Brexit vote, visited the president-elect in his eponymous Fifth Avenue tower.
Farage emerged from the meeting looking like he’d just won the jackpot at one of the pre-bankruptcy Trump casinos, suggesting that the new president’s “inner team” was not too happy with Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, since she’d been skeptical of Brexit before the vote. Would that “inner team” be Bannon? In our post-factual world, maybe we can say, “People say…”
Breitbart, which currently has operations in London and Jerusalem, certainly has plans to expand in France and Germany with new bureaus to cultivate and promote the populist-nationalist lines there.
“He has long wanted to work with all of those parties, but that was only in promoting them with Breitbart,” a source close to Bannon told The Daily Beast. “Now he has the power of the White House to do it.”
Bannon, elevated Sunday night from the head of Trump’s favorite public-relations outfit masquerading as news outlet to a White House senior counselor, is right now the direct line between the European far-right and Donald J. Trump, leader of the free world.
“If Stephen gets the offer to be Chief of Staff and says yes, then he runs the show,” a Trump aide told The Daily Beast before Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was picked for that job, and Bannon received his very, very senior position.
That’s more than a little bit disturbing, considering that Bannon was openly influenced by Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl, who rose to prominence as a blonde bombshell before producing such masterpieces of propaganda as “Triumph of the Will.”
But again, the Trumpian zeitgeist makes us digress.
So strong are the winds of right-wing change at the moment—even if it’s not clear whether they’re just gusts or sustained—that when the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, convened EU foreign ministers for an urgent dinner Sunday night to discuss the impact of the Trump victory, two quickly declined: Britain’s once and future Brexiteer, Boris Johnson, which was not much of a surprise; and France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault, who demurred as if he had something better to do. In fact, his Socialist government is scrambling to find right-wing credibility before elections next spring: a Sisyphean task given polls showing President François Hollande now has an approval rating of 4 percent (you read that right: 4 percent).
From the Netherlands, The Daily Beast’s Nadette De Visser reports that Geert Wilders (famous for his dyed blonde hair) is tapping into Trump's one-liners: “We will make the Netherlands great again,” he tweets, adding: “I will give the Netherlands back to the Dutch because the Netherlands is our country.”
“Everywhere democratic revolutions are underway. They will drive the elites from power,” says Wilders, whose Twitter feed seems to mirror Trump’s—or is it Bannon's?—at every turn.
Similartly, Wilders has no qualms about using the Kremlin’s RT television network to broadcast his message. In an interview with RT, Wilders said, “Politics will never be the same and what I call the ‘patriotic spring’ is an enormous incentive. What I say to the Europeans is, ‘Look at America, what America can do, we can do as well.’”
And up to a point the strategy appears to be working. Geert Wilders’s PVV is on the rise in some of the polls, which suggest it will be the biggest political party in the Netherlands. After Trump’s victory, the PVV went from 27 to 29 potential seats in the Dutch parliament, which would make it the single biggest bloc. But Wilders's record shows he’d find it almost impossible to pull together coalition partners in the 150-seat assembly. So where he’ll continue to build his notoriety will be on the international stage—a mission Breitbart is likely to make very possible.
Barbie Latza Nadeau reports from Rome that Matteo Salvini of the Northern League, who may be the most blatantly racist and xenophobic of all the West European wingnuts, says he’s offered to help Trump make inroads in European politics. “If Brexit teaches us something, if the election of Donald Trump teaches us something,” Salvini tweeted, “it is that today we get going to take over the power.”
But not everybody is as flattered by Trump/Bannon’s attentions as Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, Nigel Farage, Geert Wilders, and Matteo Salvini have shown themselves to be. And the least flattered, most offended of all may be the European leader most often compared to Donald Trump in terms of background and style.
Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is patently offended by the analogy. “Of course there are some similarities in that he is an entrepreneur who decided to use his expertise to help his country,” Berlusconi said of Trump to Corriere della Sera. “But I have never opted for protectionist or isolationist policies that would hurt the country,” and “politics has taught me that people are not judged by programs, but by their behavior. Let’s see him at work.”
Good idea. And once the Trump tsunami has passed, let’s see what is left of Europe.
Reported by Christopher Dickey in Paris, Asawin Subsaeng in Washington, Barbie Latza Nadeau in Rome, and Nadette De Visser in Amsterdam.