In recent days, anti-Trump protesters have peacefully confronted Trump-aligned political operatives ranging from Scott Pruitt to Kirstjen Nielsen to Mitch McConnell to Stephen Miller. In each instance, the mainstream consensus was largely that the protesters were just fine, and that the Trump operatives simply needed to grin and bear it. But now that the list includes Steve Bannon, suddenly it’s a different story – and something isn’t right here.
Donald Trump’s former campaign CEO and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was shopping in a bookstore when another customer spotted him and called him a “piece of trash.” The owner of the bookstore sided with Bannon and called the police on the other customer, who then left the store before the police arrived. Many observers on social media are condemning the bookstore owner for having sided with a wanton white supremacist like Bannon. For some reason, some chunks of the mainstream media seem to be outraged that anyone would dare criticize the bookstore owner’s actions.
To be clear, the law isn’t difficult to understand as it applies to these kinds of situations. If one customer peacefully confronts another while at a privately owned place of business, the owner of that business has the legal right to side with either customer, so long as no discrimination laws are being violated in the process. The public then has the legal right to decide whether to reward that business owner with additional business, or to punish that business owner by taking away business.
There are some situations where the law dictates what happens next regardless of the store owner’s personal leanings. For instance, this week someone threw a drink in the face of a teenager who was wearing a pro-Trump hat. This was anything but a peaceful confrontation, and the guy who threw the drink was correctly arrested for assault; this kind of behavior is plainly not okay. No one should be physically attacked, and no one should be made to fear that their safety is at risk. But when it comes to the Steve Bannon matter, even the bookstore owner is making no indication that Bannon’s safety was being threatened in any way.
So why are certain mainstream circles suddenly rallying around Steve Bannon of all people? Kirstjen Nielsen and Stephen Miller were also confronted while at privately owned places of business. One protester called Miller a “fascist” to his face while in a restaurant, which is arguably a bigger insult than “piece of trash.” Yet the only outrage is on Bannon’s behalf. This evokes memories of back when Donald Trump fired Bannon, and major television networks put Bannon on the air to interview him as if he were a perfectly normal political adviser instead of a white supremacist.
I’ll admit I can’t quite put my finger on why mainstream media pundits are singling out Steve Bannon for special treatment and normalization. Is it because he used to work in Hollywood and he has friends in the media? Are there simply too many middle aged politically moderate white guys looking at Bannon and thinking “that could be me in ten years if my life goes wrong” and thus instinctively wanting to protect him? The mainstream should objectively see Bannon as a cautionary tale about the far right. Yet every time he comes back into the picture, he’s inexplicably coddled. Something doesn’t add up.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report