Condemning all debate with Bannon amounts to giving up on politics

Steve Bannon

Two memes have become central to much contemporary political debate. The first is that we need to break out of our echo chambers. The second is that we should not provide space for hatemongers. Increasingly, the two have come to collide.

One such collision came in the controversy over Steve Bannon’s (non) appearance at the New Yorker festival. Bannon, a key figure on the “alt-right”, was invited to the festival to be interrogated by the magazine’s editor, David Remnick, only to be disinvited when a number of speakers threatened to pull out in protest. To host Bannon at a literary festival, critics argued, was to afford a white supremacist a platform and to provide him with legitimacy.

It’s true that the media often puff up fringe extremists who have controversial views but no substantial following. Bannon, however, is not such a figure. His ideas may be odious but his influence is considerable. He spouts his venom from countless platforms, not to mention into the ear of the president of the United States. He doesn’t need the New Yorker to give him legitimacy.

Almost 63 million Americans voted for Donald Trump. Bannon has played a major part in popularising ideas, from economic nationalism to white identity politics, that helped forge that support. If we want to break that connection, we need to take on people like Bannon.

A festival hosted by the uber-liberal New Yorker may not, of course, be the best place to engage with Trump supporters. Better to have that debate in Michigan or Texas. But then the denunciations of Bannon being given “legitimacy” would be even more ferocious.

Human Rights Watch’s Andrew Stroehlein argued, in a Twitter discussion, that there was no point in debating Bannon because “debunking” ideas rarely changes people’s minds….

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