Bannon's stunningly irresponsible words

Story highlights

  • Errol Louis: Bannon interview with American Prospect reveals disturbing political machinations that have dire real world impact
  • Louis: Democrats should be certain to recognize the identity politics game that Trump and Bannon are playing

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own.

(CNN)Everything we know about Steve Bannon's interview with Robert Kuttner, editor of the left-leaning American Prospect magazine, suggests that Bannon -- who was forced from his post as chief strategist to President Donald Trump Friday-- was being entirely candid about his political thinking in an unsolicited phone call to Kuttner.

That's a troubling thought. Bannon described a positive political advantage for the White House following Trump's "both sides" statements that indirectly supported the white supremacists responsible for the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
"Ethno-nationalism -- it's losers. It's a fringe element. I think the media plays it up too much, and we gotta help crush it, you know, uh, help crush it more. These guys are a collection of clowns," Bannon told Kuttner -- a cynical dismissal from the former editor of Breitbart news who last year gleefully described his media organization as "the platform for the alt-right," that same "fringe" movement.
    And while military leaders, business titans and Republican former presidents have all taken pains to distance themselves from Trump's comments about the violence in Charlottesville, Bannon seems to be embracing the controversy as helpful to the White House.
    "The Democrats -- the longer they talk about identity politics, I got 'em. I want them to talk about racism every day," Bannon said to Kuttner. "If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats."
    Those are the stunningly irresponsible words of a man willing to shrug off the possible ramifications of growing racial division -- divisions that cost a young woman her life -- in order to reap political advantage.
    A recent poll of US adults found that 27% think the President's remarks about far-right extremists were "strong enough," compared with the 52% majority who think Trump's comments weren't strong enough.
    But as Bannon is making clear, the White House sees a path to victory by leaving the difficult issue of race relations to the Democrats and focusing on jobs and the economy.
    It's hard to imagine a more cynical ploy. Bannon has tried to spin his interview with Kuttner as a strategy designed to draw media attention away from Trump, but that doesn't ring true.
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    Democrats should be certain to recognize the game that Trump and Bannon are playing. The insensitive, inconsistent comments coming from the White House, it seems, are part of a plan to allow white nationalist "clowns" to bait Democrats into complaining about racism instead of fighting for tax and investment policies that help working class Americans.
    Democrats should remind Americans that it is they who are able to simultaneously fight against intolerance and develop policies that resonate with working-class households. It's the best way to avoid falling into Bannon's trap.
    This commentary was updated from an earlier version.