Bannon and Omarosa: Freedom of Speech at Its Best (and Worst)

Steve Bannon Omarosa

The task of keeping up with the news is enough to stress anyone out, especially when the people being discussed, profiled, and interviewed are difficult and sometimes depressing to listen to. Unfortunately, we’re left to grapple with whether it’s better to be blissfully ill-informed and ignorant or terrified and aware.

This past week alone, a few things have happened that have made me want to turn the TV off, but for the sake of not falling behind on the news cycle, I kept watching.

Questions have arisen as far as who gets a platform, who doesn’t, and if, how, and when voices should be silenced.

Obviously, threats to freedom of speech and freedom of press should not be taken lightly, so it’s a tricky thing to navigate.

Ari Melber’s Interview with Steve Bannon

Ari Melber has a show on MSNBC, and it’s a good one. I like Ari. He presents news in a way that is tangible and palatable, and while the subject matter might not always be fun, he always seems to be having a good time. Beyond that, I think he’s a great interviewer. He treats his guests with respect and gives them time to speak without cutting them off (as best he can, at least).

He got a bit of flack recently, though, when he interviewed Steve Bannon, co-founder and former executive chairman of Breitbart News and former White House Chief Strategist under President Trump.

Bannon doesn’t often do television interviews, especially not for MSNBC. Many people were disappointed that Ari Melber gave Bannon a platform on a popular news network, claiming that featuring him legitimized his career and his base. Many people, including those who never miss an episode of “The Beat with Ari Melber,” stated on social media that they would not watch the interview.

In the past, Ari’s had people from across the aisle on his show, and his supporters spoke out against them. Ari’s response has always been the same – how can we expect to know what they’re thinking if we don’t speak with them and listen to them? He has a point, but I think what people actually were disappointed by is that when these so-called pundits are pressed, they often revert to ad-hominem attacks, played out talking points that are loosely rooted in facts, and other questionable debate tactics. In the end, the conversations don’t do much to further understanding. Instead, they only manage to further exacerbate divisions.

The Bannon interview went a bit differently.

The Bannon interview didn’t make as many headlines as it probably would have under a different climate. It wasn’t as inflammatory as many of us maybe thought it would be because he didn’t say anything outwardly crazy. There were no insane sound bites, no crazy eyes, no yelling…

There were just talking points. It was just a conversation between two guys with opposing views.
As a viewer, this was scary because Bannon has very Trump-like ideals, but he’s actually well-spoken. You can’t really write him off as an old man with a declining mental state, a narcissist, or a toddler with a temper and Twitter fingers.

There were a few things he did that were a bit troubling or perplexing, though.

For one, he complained that groups like the Charlottesville protesters are not representative of the whole, that they are not the target base, and that we should not judge their whole Republican operation on a few radical outliers.

Two problems with this…

The first is that is that the rest of us are absolutely judged by the radicals who choose to identify and align themselves with our larger groups. For example, if I was judged by the worst of my various groups, I’d be an entitled and lazy terrorist who sleeps with older men for their money.

The second problem is that Trump, neither as a presidential candidate nor as the president, has denounced these groups or their more extreme members. He has chosen to not address them. He has chosen to remain quiet, and in so doing, allowed them to crusade on behalf of his legacy and presidency.

Another thing – he casually and matter-of-factly spoke negatively about CNN, specifically Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo, which is more manipulative and has more subconscious psychological impacts than when Trump rants and raves about “the failing New York Times” or “fake news CNN.” Bannon’s approach is less shocking, but the shock can sometimes help to remind us that things are not normal.

Similarly, he casually mentioned that the Democrats are backed by Wall Street, implying that the Republicans are not, when in fact he himself comes from Wall Street and he admitted in the interview, albeit in a roundabout way, that many donors for his grassroots campaigns are from Wall Street.

Ok, I’m going to go out on a limb here – and I normally don’t make these predictions out loud – and say that Bannon will be the one to watch in the next few years or so. His work in the background has gotten him to where he is today, but no one knew him or his name until now. Now, he has name recognition (any attention, even bad attention, is good attention…) and he doesn’t necessarily need Trump’s name and affiliation to make waves and progress anymore.

The far right Trumpian Republicans needed a bombastic and malleable front-man like Donald Trump to blaze a trail for their cause. He’s like the celebrity bulldozer that cleared the path for others to come in.

With the path clear, the players are at their marks.

What’s scary about Ari’s interview with Bannon was that it was almost too good. It allowed Bannon to clarify his position on several different topics that he had previously not been able to do. It allowed him to present himself to the American people – not just to those who watch Fox News – in a way that was measured and, dare I say, agreeable. By that, I don’t mean that I liked what he had to say or agreed with everything. I just mean that I wasn’t irritated enough to turn off the interview. Would I rather watch a YouTube video of Zach Woods teaching me how to survive in the wilderness? Absolutely. But compared to my impulse to turn off the screen every time President Trump is on it, Bannon’s interview was tolerable.

So, while it helps to hear the opposition and gain insight into their viewpoints, their values, their priorities, their goals, and their strategies, the more you listen to bullsh*t, the more you start to believe it. At the very least, you start to believe that it’s normal, or that more people feel this way than actually do.

A loud minority can often be more impactful than a pacified majority.

Omarosa’s Got Tapes

This girl has been everywhere, and her media blitz is still blitzing. She’s covered all of the major news networks and then some.

She’s another one that people don’t like, though. Coming to fame and notoriety as the villain of The Apprentice, Omarosa Manigault-Newman isn’t afraid of some bad press – or of Trump.

She’s pretty formidable, even her critics have to admit. She’s educated, attractive, and cutthroat, and she learned how to play the game of politics in the Trump era from Trump himself.

Before she got fired from her White House job of doing who-knows-what, Omarosa recorded tons of conversations with Trump and Trump officials.

In her interviews, she’s said that she had a “blind spot” where Trump was concerned, and anyone who’s ever had a crush on a terrible but charismatic person can identify with that (read: all of us). However, her admitted complicity in defending the actions and rhetoric of the Trump administration, along with her ambition-driven alignments with a man who she’s referred to as a racist, a misogynist, a disappointment, and mentally-impaired has had far more serious consequences than it seems Omarosa foresaw.

But you know what the best part of all of this is? It doesn’t even matter.

Omarosa has made a career out of being a reality show villain, and she’s been riding this wave for about fifteen years. That, in itself, is impressive. People love to hate her, and she’s certainly given us plenty of reasons to hate her over the years. But now, her reputation, her career grabs, her integrity, and her reasons and motives behind any of this don’t matter for the simple fact that she has tapes.

When national politics has been reduced to base he-said-she-said tweets, assertions, and speculations, tapes matter for two reasons. The first is to obviously prove that someone actually said something. The second is to defend oneself. As is common with Trump, whenever he turns on someone who used to work for him, his go-to moves are to discredit them, diminish whatever role they served, and insult their competency and intellect.

Omarosa is almost untouchable now because anything anyone says against her can, evidently, be disproved with physical, concrete, and undeniable evidence. Even if the tapes were illegally obtained, and even though their existence brings up several other questions regarding security within the White House – we already know they exist, even if we haven’t heard all of them. The legality of the tapes will affect whether or not they’d be admissible in court, but either way, the tapes serve the greater purpose of damaging an entire administration’s already fragile credibility.

Angela Rye, an attorney and CNN political commentator, famously laughed on air when news broke that Omarosa had been fired from the White House. Angela Rye doesn’t like Omarosa and claims that she serves her own self-interest.

Sure, but in this case, does that even matter? Not really. Personally, I don’t care if she sells some books, and I don’t care if she gets a job as a surveillance expert with the FBI. I don’t care what she gets out of this because we are getting so much from her.

Trump’s biggest supporters often deny the things he says and does, citing a lack of physical evidence.

Can’t deny what’s on a tape, though. You can spin it. You can diminish it. But you can’t deny it.

Unless you’re Guiliani, in which case “truth isn’t truth,” but that’s another story.

Apparently, Omarosa’s someone who is better to have as a friend than as an enemy. As Bill Maher said,

“She’s our asshole, now.”

A recurring theme, one that both Bannon and Omarosa have brought up, is that we breathe life into things with the attention we give them. Bannon used that argument to explain why President Trump doesn’t address, let alone denounce, the far right and members of the KKK. According to Bannon, Trump knows that by mentioning them at all, he’d actually be giving them more fuel. In Omarosa’s case, she says that the best way to deal with Donald Trump is to ignore him. He enjoys the disbelief and outrage that he inspires with his nonsense tweets and outlandish statements. And she’s right – the best, and really the only way to deal with a narcissist is to ignore him. Otherwise, any attention you pay them, however negative or vitriolic, will be spun, at least in their own heads, into praise.

After all, hate is the same thing as love.

But apathy? Not caring at all about someone else’s antics, or even their existence? That’s cold.

So now the question is…how do we ignore the President of the United States?

Here’s something to keep in mind as you navigate the news outlets, their stories and their biases. It’s a quote from writer Rainer Maria Rilke. He’s discussing literary criticism, but if you sub out “literary” for “political,” it still works.

“Read as little as possible of literary criticism – such things are either partisan opinions, which have become petrified and meaningless, hardened and empty of life, or else they are just clever word games, in which one view wins today, and tomorrow the opposite view.”


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1 comment

  1. 1

    Hi Yasmin. I enjoyed the blog post.

    Interesting reflection on far right candidates and pundits needing a front man like a Donald Trump to blaze the way which will in turn make them seem to be more reasonable. I’m going to focus mainly on Bannon here. The guy is extremely intelligent. Cambridge Analytica was basically his brainchild. I don’t mean to be far out when I say he is a skilled manipulator and he engages in sophisticated psychological warfare. A mild mannered interview on mainstream media that makes him seem reasonable is just a part of the act.
    I am one of those who has decided to turn off the news and stop using social media. I can’t guarantee how long but around May 16th I deactivated Facebook and decided to stop reading and paying attention to the news. I could tell I was being inundated. I do care deeply about social issues and current events and the world at large but it was not serving to be both overwhelmed and helpless to change what I saw. I’ve beeb more aware of the world immediately around me. Some of that is what is going on inside of me emotionally and mentally. Or with my family. Or at work. Or with friends and groups I associate with. There’s still intensity in this world but I am seeing my part in it more now.
    This second part was just some personal sharing.
    I hadn’t been back to your blog in awhile but I’m glad I checked back to see your reflections.
    Take care, Yasmin.

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