Stephen K. Bannon, until Friday President Trump’s chief strategist, is leaving the White House. It is a satisfying day for anyone who believes this avowedly virulent man should never have been allowed near the halls of power. Bannon’s exit comes just after the sacking of Rich Higgins, a former National Security Council staffer who wrote a memo alleging dark treasonous conspiracies on the part of “globalists” and others who oppose the president. Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman tweeted Friday, “Bannon friend says Breitbart ramping up for war against Trump. ‘It’s now a Democrat White House,’ source says.”
But do not imagine that the president is finally pivoting away from shortsighted nationalism, delusion and chaos. There are still plenty of scary people in Trump’s White House. These include:
• Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, a chief architect of the travel ban who apparently reacted to his adolescence in super-diverse Southern California by becoming a radical anti-immigrant zealot.
• White House special assistant Julia Hahn, who is another Southern California-raised anti-immigrant fanatic. She is a former Breitbart columnist known for denouncing immigration — particularly from Muslim countries — and the mainstream Republicans who were not sufficiently angry about it. William Kristol, the editor at large of the Weekly Standard, termed her “Bannon’s Bannon.” From a February New Yorker profile: “In dozens of vituperative articles, Hahn called [House Speaker Paul Ryan] a ‘third-world migration enthusiast’ and a ‘double agent’ who was secretly campaigning for Hillary Clinton.”
• White House deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, a supposed national security expert whom practically every actual national security expert seems to despise. He will probably be angered that I did not add “Dr.” before his name. His primary “insight” appears to be that politicians must use the term “radical Islamic terrorism.”
• Attorney General Jeff Sessions, long considered a fringe figure in the Republican Party, was a mentor to Bannon, according to the ousted chief strategist. He combines a steadfast commitment to an outdated, discredited 1980s get-tough-on-crime mindset with the rabidly anti-immigrant views of others on this list. It says something about the Trump administration that firing Sessions would actually be concerning on other grounds — the motive would be to quash the Russia investigation, which Sessions has properly allowed to continue.
• President Trump. Some of the president’s staffers might give intellectual structure to Trump’s instinct to indulge in bluster, insularity, suspicion and cultural grievance. But, as his handling of the Charlottesville tragedy over the past week has shown, Trump needs no assistance sidling up to racists and eroding the norms that hold the country together. This list is not evidence that eliminating a few staffers would fix the Trump administration. It reflects on the man himself, showing the sorts of bizarre personalities this president has attracted and promoted. Until the nation pivots from Trump, there will be no pivot toward sanity at the White House.