Trump’s team: The reasonable and the outrageous

Stephen K. Bannon during a meeting at Trump Tower.
Stephen K. Bannon during a meeting at Trump Tower.REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Presidents and their presidencies are largely defined by those they pick to staff their government. On that front, President-elect Donald Trump has made two notable moves since his upset win last week.

One is reasonable and might even be reassuring — if the other weren’t so appalling, that is.

The reasonable move was naming Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff for the new administration. Priebus is a well-known face, and a figure with ties to many in the Republican Party establishment. A lawyer by training, he has been a long-time Republican political operative, first in Wisconsin and then, since 2009, at the RNC. There, he served as legal counsel and, since 2011, as chairman, a post in which he is generally credited with having done a solid job. Priebus’s downside is that he’s not known as a particularly strong or forceful manager; certainly he’s never done anything remotely comparable to the job he’ll be undertaking. Overall, however, he is a reasonable choice who may grow into the job, and whose selection signals that Trump recognizes the need for an establishment figure in his administration.

Now for the outrageous news: Trump’s other high-level appointment is of the disreputable Stephen K. Bannon as his senior counselor and chief strategist. Bannon, the former head of the right-wing Breitbart News, doesn’t belong within 10 miles of the White House, in any capacity whatsoever. Under his tenure, Breitbart moved beyond a right-wing partisan polemical perspective and started publishing articles tinged with racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia, becoming a favorite of the so-called alt-right, which might more bluntly be described as the bigoted right. No wonder, then, that former KKK leader David Duke applauded, back in August, when Trump made Bannon his campaign CEO. Or that, as the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented, white nationalists are celebrating his upcoming role in the White House.


Personally, Bannon is known for his profane, bullying style. Thrice married, he is credibly reported to have physically abused his second wife, Mary Louise Piccard. In 1996, California law-enforcement officials charged him with battery, misdemeanor domestic violence, and trying to dissuade his wife from filing charges; according to news reports, after an argument over a credit card, Bannon grabbed her by the neck and wrist forcefully enough to leave marks. The case against him was ultimately dismissed because Piccard did not appear for the trial. In their divorce proceedings, she said Bannon had pressured her to leave town for the trial period. In later court proceedings, she also said that Bannon disliked Jews and had not wanted their twin girls going to school with Jews. Bannon has denied making those comments.

Bannon’s reputation as a bigot proceeds him, which is why a number of watchdog groups are sounding the alarm. “It is a sad day when a man who presided over the premier website of the Alt Right — a loose-knit group of white nationalists and unabashed anti-Semites and racists — is slated to be a senior staff member in the ‘people’s house,’” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.


But it’s not just the watchdogs who should be alarmed. No matter whom they supported in the presidential race, all fair-minded Americans should be revolted by this appointment. And they should speak up and make that revulsion known.