* * * * *"Plenty of presidents have had prominent political advisers, and some of those advisers have been suspected of quietly setting policy behind the scenes . . . . But we’ve never witnessed a political aide move as brazenly to consolidate power as Stephen Bannon — nor have we seen one do quite so much damage so quickly to his putative boss’s popular standing or pretenses of competence.
"Mr. Bannon supercharged Breitbart News as a platform for inciting the alt-right, did the same with the Trump campaign and is now repeating the act with the Trump White House itself.
"That was perhaps to be expected . . . . Mr. Trump never showed much inclination to reach beyond the minority base of voters that delivered his Electoral College victory, and Mr. Bannon . . . is helping make sure he doesn’t.
"But a new executive order, politicizing the process for national security decisions, suggests Mr. Bannon is positioning himself not merely as a Svengali but as the de facto president.
"In that new order, issued on Saturday, Mr. Trump took the unprecedented step of naming Mr. Bannon to the National Security Council . . . . More telling still, Mr. Trump appointed Mr. Bannon to the N.S.C. “principals’ committee,” which . . . meets far more frequently. At the same time, President Trump downgraded two senior national security officials — the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff . . . and the director of national intelligence. . . .
"All this may seem like boring bureaucratic chart-making, but who sits at the National Security Council table when the administration debates issues of war and peace can make a real difference in decisions. In giving Mr. Bannon an official role in national security policy making, Mr. Trump has not simply broken with tradition but has embraced the risk of politicizing national security . . . .
"Mr. Trump’s order says that the chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the director of national intelligence will attend the principals’ committee meetings only 'where issues pertaining to their responsibilities and expertise are to be discussed.' Could there be any national security discussions when input from the intelligence agencies and the military will not be required? People in those jobs are often the ones to tell presidents hard truths, even when they are unwelcome.
"As his first week in office amply demonstrated, Mr. Trump has no grounding in national security decision making, no sophistication in governance and little apparent grasp of what it takes to lead a great diverse nation. He needs to hear from experienced officials . . . . But Mr. Bannon has positioned himself, along with Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as the president’s most trusted aide, shutting out other voices that might offer alternative views. He is now reportedly eclipsing the national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.
"While Mr. Trump long ago embraced Mr. Bannon’s politics, he would be wise to reconsider allowing him to run his White House, particularly after the fiasco . . . of the risible Muslim ban. Mr. Bannon helped push that order through without consulting Mr. Trump’s own experts at the Department of Homeland Security or even seeking deliberation by the N.S.C. itself. The administration’s subsequent modifications, the courtroom reversals and the international furor have made the president look not bold and decisive but simply incompetent.
"As a candidate, Mr. Trump was immensely gratified by the applause at his rallies for Mr. Bannon’s jingoism. Yet now casually weaponized in executive orders, those same ideas are alienating American allies and damaging the presidency.
"Presidents are entitled to pick their advisers. But Mr. Trump’s first spasms of policy making have supplied ample evidence that he needs advisers who can think strategically and weigh second- and third-order consequences beyond the immediate domestic political effects.
"Imagine tomorrow if Mr. Trump is faced with a crisis involving China in the South China Sea or Russia in Ukraine. Will he look to his chief political provocateur, Mr. Bannon, with his penchant for blowing things up, or will he turn at last for counsel to the few more thoughtful experienced hands in his administration, like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and General Dunford?"
* * * * *
Apparently the editorial board wrote this before the Monday night firing of the Acting Attorney General for not defending his immigration order in court. That only adds another layer of alarm onto the deep concern expressed in this editorial. Trump's overweening belief in his own thoughts, coupled with Bannon's determination to "bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today's establishment," as he told the Daily Beast in 2013, could literally destroy our democracy.
Trying to silence the press, tolerating no dissension, firing his Acting Attorney General for standing up to him to oppose an illegal order, and showing that he will not respect the rule of law and the constitution as interpreted by our judges -- these are the first steps toward dictatorship.
There were voices warning against Bannon from the beginning . . . and here we are with it all taking shape as a reality that is even worse than we thought. This is a real test of the balance of powers in this country. Even more, it is a test of whether We, the People will stand firm and not let our system of government be taken away.