President-elect Donald Trump said he wants to unite the country after one of the most divisive political campaigns in recent history. That’s good. But he reached out to the political fringe to install Stephen K. Bannon, a prominent advocate and enabler of the white supremacist movement, in the White House as an adviser. That’s bad. Very bad.
Naming a right-wing media provocateur and accused racist as one of his top advisers undermines the new president’s stated desire, as expressed in his first TV interview after the election, to bring the country together. Mr. Bannon is no one’s idea of a uniter. He doesn’t fit into any plan to heal the divisions of race, class, gender and ethnic origin exposed by the campaign.
On the contrary, Mr. Bannon is routinely shunned by most moderate and conservative Republicans and repeatedly denounced by civil-liberties groups and watchdogs against racial violence, the Southern Poverty Law Center among them. No longer consigned to the hate corner covered by the umbrella term “alt-right,” Mr. Bannon now becomes the new president’s senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist.
Mr. Trump’s White House adviser ran the controversial Breitbart News web site for much of the last decade. There, he pushed a racist message embraced by white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and other right-wing nuts — and was manifestly proud of it. His site has accused President Obama of deliberately allowing “hating Muslims” into the country. It has compared Planned Parenthood’s work to the Holocaust, called one respected conservative commentator a “renegade Jew” and . . . well, you get the idea.
When Mr. Bannon signed on to become a top adviser to the Trump campaign this year, it became apparent that the New York mogul was willing to accept criticism in exchange for support from the far-right hate-mongers if they could help him win, which they did. But elevating the likes of Mr. Bannon to the role of White House adviser takes this to another level. It sanitizes him and normalizes his abnormal ideas. Worse, it suggests that Mr. Trump, despite his claims to want to bring the country together, embraces, or at least tolerates, the views of a fringe ideology that sees no place in America for diverse people, religions and life choices.
With this move, Mr. Trump has destroyed all the good that he intended to do by telling “60 Minutes” that he wanted supporters to stop the bully tactics. He has to do more. Recall that during his own campaign in 2008, candidate Barack Obama had to give a speech that put distance between himself and the ideas of Jeremiah Wright, his pastor in Chicago. Mr. Obama denounced remarks by Rev. Wright that were harshly critical of this country and some of its policies, and Mr. Obama made it clear he would have none of it.
Mr. Obama sought to dampen white fears that racial hatred was fueling his candidacy. Well, guess what? Hatred and resentment were part and parcel of Mr. Trump’s campaign, and too many Americans are living in fear of his presidency. His victory has fueled a marked increase in bullying and harassment of African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities. It’s incumbent on Mr. Trump to do what candidate Obama did — unequivocally disavow what’s being done, and done in his name. But just saying “Stop it!” isn’t enough. He must take action: Reverse the decision to bring Mr. Bannon into the White House. His hateful ideas have no place in what’s rightly nicknamed the “People’s House.”