Steve Bannon is a festering, scabby boil on the backside of democracy, undermining the American electoral process, pitting citizens against one another and grinding any notion of civil debate into oblivion.*
Unfortunately, he’s also smart.
He has built a career on understanding how to use race and gender and politics as a weapon to drive wedges between Americans.
We are seeing that play out in Alabama, after Bannon went to stump Tuesday night for accused child molester and, oh yeah, U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore, and used the platform to lash out at prominent critics of Moore’s — most notably Mitt Romney.
“Mitt, here’s how it is, brother: The college deferments, we can debate that — but you hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while guys were dying in rice paddies in Vietnam,” Bannon said. “Do not talk to me about honor and integrity.”
Bannon’s attack appeared to be a direct response to Romney’s tweet Monday: “Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a stain on the GOP and on the nation. … No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
Bannon just had to bash Romney’s faith, turning it into yet another of Bannon’s divisive dog-whistle campaign tactics.
Now, perhaps Bannon missed the whole part in the Republican Party platform about religious liberty — “We pledge to defend the religious beliefs and rights of conscience of all Americans and to safeguard religious institutions against government control.”
But he also knows full well that, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly half of the voters in Alabama are evangelicals, while Mormons only make up 1 percent.
And, as we’ve seen, Mormons are generally viewed with suspicion and considered a cult by many evangelicals. In a 2014 poll, again by the Pew Research Center, 47 percent of white evangelicals nationwide had a favorable view of Mormons, the lowest of any Christian faith, a full 16 points below Catholics and 22 points lower than Jews.
So make sure you bring Romney’s Mormonism into the mix, toss in Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who — oh, hey — also happens to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and drive that wedge deeper.
It keeps with Bannon’s playbook. Pit the white base against people based on race, sex and now religion.
Utah politicos were quick to fire back at Bannon.
Sen. Orrin Hatch said: “I also resent anyone attacking any person’s religious views, but particularly our own Christian LDS faith and the selfless service of missionary work,” offering to help Bannon understand the faith and to give him a copy of the Book of Mormon.
Sen. Mike Lee said Romney is a good man and “you can’t credibly call into question his patriotism or moral character — especially on the basis of his religious beliefs or his outstanding service as a missionary.”
And Gov. Gary Herbert tweeted that Romney and his family are honorable people who “represent the very best of Utah values. Utahns reject the ugly politics and tactics of [Bannon]. … #stayout of Utah. We don’t need you. We don’t want you. You don’t line up with American values. You don’t line up with Utah values.”
I’m not sure I’ve ever agreed more with anything Herbert has said.
But it’s not Mormon politicians from Utah who need to speak out. When people like Bannon try to create a religious wedge, it’s evangelical leaders — especially those in Alabama — who need to stand against it.
So far it’s been crickets and I hope that changes. But when people like Bannon try to drive people of good will apart, those people need to pull together. And until that happens, we’ll see more of it, because it will keep working.
* Note: Yes, I get the contradiction of calling Bannon a “festering boil” and talking about civil debate. But civility is reserved for those who practice it.