Daily Engagement is a new, brief, daily feature on Flavorwire. It’s aimed at helping people feel somewhat less helpless and hopeless (or at least in control of their helplessness and hopelessness) in the midst of a political news cycle that’s been doling out daily affronts to human decency.
Every day, we’ll post one easy thing that people can do to continue to resist the current state of politics under the Trump administration, focusing on the creative ways (we are a culture website after all) that citizens are finding to resist.
No matter the particular way he’s caricatured — on SNL as the grim reaper, on Twitter as Michael Shannon if he “did a Super Size Me where he only ate cigarettes,” or in your minds as a destructive abstraction — Steve Bannon is bad news. He’s even worse news now that his role in government has been expanded — through an executive memorandum that Donald Trump apparently signed without bothering to read in full — to a seat on the Principals Committee of the National Security Council.
The legality of Bannon’s appointment is debatable. According to Snopes, despite the fact that people making foreign policy decisions on the committee need to have been confirmed by a large legislative body, it wasn’t illegal because he’s just an “invitee” to NSC meetings. Slate, however, argues that the order makes no distinction between member and attendee, and cites Yale University National Security lawyer who suspects “cute language” was being used to potentially “circumvent congressional intent” herein. Either way, there seem to be a couple of gestating bills that could potentially put boundaries on Bannon’s reach — if people have the drive and backbones to get behind them.
Bannon’s growing power is especially worrying given that he’s an unelected Trump appointee and because, as chief strategist, he never had to be confirmed by the Senate, unlike those in Trump’s cabinet. And from the way it’s been depicted — most recently in a New York Times article sourcing various anonymous White House staffers — he’s effectively running the country, with Trump serving as a furiously tweeting figurehead (he tweeted that the article’s claims of Bannon’s power over him were false, writing, “I call my own shots, largely based on an accumulation of data, and everyone knows it.”) From that piece, it seems Chief of Staff Reince Priebus may be attempting to exert some limitations on the heretofore chaotic way policy has been implemented. But Bannon still has his seat at NSC meetings, as well as, presumably, Trump’s ear.
The New York Times article notes that while the president has largely been busying himself with his phone, Bannon has been working 16-hour days. It’s already known that some of the most bigoted of Trump’s rainbow of executive orders were drafted by Bannon and Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, and released in an avalanche in a tactic seemingly designed to overwhelm potential opposition.
Through the Muslim Ban — or, euphemistically, the travel-ban-barring-people-from-7-countries-that-happen-to-have-Muslim-majorities-and-happen-to-not-be-countries-where-Trump-has-business-ties-unless-perhaps-they’re-Christian-refugees-but-definitely-not-if-they’re-Muslim-refugees-BUT-no-it’s-still-not-a-Muslim-Ban-we-promise — Bannon has proven an insidious drive to assert his white nationalist agenda, regardless of the chaotic cost. And in fact, given how fervently the man has spoken against the establishment, the chaotic cost could actually be something he craves.
So, yes. Those are some reasons that you probably already knew. Now to what, if anything, can even be done about Bannon’s presence on the NSC, and his power grab in general.
Dianne Feinstein (CA), Mark R. Warner (VA), Kamala Harris (CA), Martin Heinrich (NM), Patrick Leahy (VT), and Jeff Merkley (OR) introduced legislation on February 2 to reverse Trump’s “reorganization of the NSC,” per Dianne Feinstein’s website. It’s called the Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act, and would “amend the National Security Act of 1947 to clarify membership at the senior advisory level of the NSC, ensuring that national security experts are the ones crafting national security policy.” As The Intercept writes, “while the bill doesn’t mention Bannon, it clearly addresses the widespread outrage his appointment to the NSC principals committee triggered.”
Slate reports that Florida Representative Stephanie Murphy is introducing a bill that aims to “depoliticize national security so that we never jeopardize the safety and security of the American people.” The bill in question would mandate that nobody in the White House “whose primary responsibility is political in nature” could serve on the council, or even attend its meetings. It would also reverse Trump’s order, requiring, per Slate, “that the director of national intelligence and the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff” always be invited to said meetings — since it was their seats that were replaced by Bannon’s under Trump’s order.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sent out an email on Friday, noting that the Senate Committee on Homeland Security is counting calls about Bannon’s role on the NSC. (The number is 202-224-4751; if you get a busy signal and can’t get through to voicemail, here’s the email form.) Since bills that are introduced don’t often get hearings, this could also be a good time to name-drop the Strengthening Oversight of National Security Act legislation from Feinstein, Warner, et al. Even if they weren’t taking a tally, it couldn’t hurt to flood them with related calls, particularly with this legislation also circulating.
Even if absolutely nothing can be done congressionally, the aforementioned New York Times article made it seem like Trump himself was unhappy with Bannon’s grab for power. (In a masterwork of lede-burying, it could also be read as suggesting that our president doesn’t read the orders he signs, and then blames someone else if he finds himself unhappy with the consequences of his signature.) As the article relates:
…for the moment, Mr. Bannon remains the president’s dominant adviser, despite Mr. Trump’s anger that he was not fully briefed on details of the executive order he signed giving his chief strategist a seat on the National Security Council, a greater source of frustration to the president than the fallout from the travel ban.
This raises the question: if Trump senses that he’s growing more and more unpopular through his collusions with Bannon, might he eventually start seeking advice elsewhere? That’s as it may be, but for now, Bannon remains troublingly powerful, and his presence on the NSC is a continuing cause for concern.
UPDATE: California Senator Kamala Harris also now has a petition on her website regarding the removal of Bannon from the National Security Council. Sign here if you agree that he doesn’t have a place in Council meetings.