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Free pass for Bannon is unconscionable

Stephen Bannon (Photograph by Evan Vucci/AP)

As enraging as it is that President-elect Donald Trump ran a racist and xenophobic presidential campaign, it is even more galling that he is elevating to a senior position in the White House the man who unabashedly took white supremacy out of the shadows.

When he was the executive chairman of Breitbart News, Stephen Bannon served as the alt-Right's sherpa from far-Right fringe to mainstream. And he did so using Trump's coattails, first by championing the candidate on Breitbart and then serving as Trump's campaign chief executive. What passed for news on that website was nothing but breathtaking racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic garbage. That Bannon and his influence will be just steps from the Oval Office as chief White House strategist and senior counsellor is beyond outrageous, especially in light of what happened with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Surely, you remember him.

Wright was the legendary pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. A young Barack Obama wrote fondly of him, his role in helping the biracial community organiser to find himself and the spiritual home the minister provided. Wright was the one who married Obama to his wife, Michelle. His importance in their lives then cannot be understated. But that all changed when an incendiary phrase from a Wright sermon from 2003 was unearthed and played on a feedback loop to a stunned nation in 2008.

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America,” Wright said. “No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

The impertinent rhetoric and fiery delivery seemed to confirm fears that the black man with a funny-sounding name not only was not really American, but he also was a closet reverse racist who neither loved America nor white people. The ensuing controversy put Obama's presidential campaign on life support. It took a beautifully nuanced speech on race about a week after the sermon surfaced to save his White House ambitions. Because of other sermons that surfaced and Wright's negative reaction to the harsh spotlight, Obama disavowed Wright and resigned his membership in the church. If you want an excellent explanation of Wright's religious philosophy and the Obama-Wright relationship and controversy, read The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America by Michael Eric Dyson. “I won't go to a church that's friends with a racist and an anti-Semite,” Sean Hannity said on his Fox News programme on March 12, 2008, while pressing Dee Dee Myers on whether she would attend a church such as Wright's.

“The fact is you have a president who for years went to a church whose pastor said stunningly hateful things about Americans,” Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, said of Obama in January 2015.

“He spent 17 years in the church of Jeremiah Wright, and this is the guy who said 'God damn America, not God bless America',” former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said in February 2015, in one of his many critical, disrespectful aspersions against the President.

Such folks who slammed Obama because of his association with Wright have proven themselves Grade-A hypocrites when it comes to Bannon.

“They're attacking Steve Bannon as something that I know that he's not,” Hannity said last week, despite ample evidence to the contrary.

“The Bannon-Priebus team is a tremendous choice by President-elect Trump,” Gingrich tweeted last week. “Bannon for key strategies, Priebus for daily management. great team.”

Notice how Gingrich, lover of protocol and titles, placed Bannon's name before that of Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee. That Gingrich lauds Bannon for “key strategies” speaks volumes. “He is a patriot. He loves America,” Giuliani generously said of Bannon last week. “He may have a different view of America than you or I, but he loves America as much as you or I do.”

Wright was kicked to the kerb because he delivered caustic sermons that proved politically problematic for a parishioner on his way to the presidency. And throughout his two terms, Wright's words were used to question Obama's loyalty to the United States and delegitimise his presidency. Meanwhile, Bannon openly trafficked in racism, xenophobia and misogyny to help to elect Trump and appeasers are attempting to divorce the man from what he actively championed at Breitbart and on Trump's campaign as he stands ready to assume enormous power as senior counsellor to the president.

“I'm not a white nationalist,” Bannon told Michael Wolff of the Hollywood Reporter in an interview published on Friday, “I'm a nationalist.” Translation: don't believe your lying eyes.

The America I was taught to love demanded more from its leaders. Our presidents were held to high and seemingly impossible moral standards because they were considered a reflection of our better selves. They are more than who we are. They are who we aspire to be. That a majority of the American people voted for Hillary Clinton is an affirmation of those aspirations. Trump's ascendancy to the presidency and the senior counsellor who will guide him during it are stunning shows of contempt for who we have always sought to be.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes for the PostPartisan blog.