It would be nice to believe that Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House will end, or least diminish, Donald Trump’s flirtations with bigotry. Alas, that’s almost certainly not the case.
As Trump himself likes to note, Bannon joined his campaign late, in August 2016. By that time, Trump had already called Mexican immigrants “rapists,” falsely accused American Muslims in New Jersey of celebrating the 9/11 attacks, said “Islam hates us,” and declared that Judge Gonzalo Curiel could not fairly judge the case against Trump University because was Mexican American. Bannon’s hiring was not a cause of the Trump campaign’s dalliance with Islamophobia, nativism, and white nationalism. It was a result.
In fact, Trump has been exploiting bigotry since before he hired Bannon, before he ran for President, before he even entered public life. In 1973, at the age of 27, Donald Trump—then President of Trump Management—was sued along with his father for discrimination against African Americans by the Justice Department. In 1989, when four African American and one Hispanic teenagers (the “Central Park Five”) were arrested for rape, Trump took out newspaper ads declaring that the accused should be executed and “forced to suffer.” When DNA evidence exonerated the young men in 2012, Trump denounced New York City’s decision to compensate them, saying “I think people are tired of politically correct.” As late as 2013, he still tweeted, “Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?”
Steve Bannon was not advising Donald Trump when Trump demanded to see Barack Obama’s college transcripts and launched a crusade to prove that he was not an American citizen. Bannon was not advising Trump in 2013, when the real estate tycoon tweeted that, “I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz—I mean Jon Stewart” or told Republican Jews that, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” And in recent weeks, as Bannon has reportedly lost influence, Trump has not become any less racially inflammatory. His Tuesday press conference about Charlottesville, and his Thursday tweet suggesting the United States should look to a false story of U.S. Army General John Pershing’s supposed war crimes in the Philippines as the right model for how to treat suspected Muslim terrorists, all occurred while he was reportedly weighing Bannon’s firing. Indeed, reporting suggests that the thing that really bothered Trump about Bannon was his penchant for stealing the spotlight. Not his religious and racial views.
Perhaps, on issues on which Trump has no strong beliefs, Bannon’s departure could make a difference. But Steve Bannon did not teach Trump what to think about Muslims, blacks, women, and Jews. When it comes to religion, gender, and race, Trump developed his views long ago. The only way he might change them would be if he grew convinced that they are hurting him politically. And probably not even then.