Steinberg: We’re all guardians of American values now

SHARE Steinberg: We’re all guardians of American values now

Stephen Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, is senior counselor and chief strategist for President Donald Trump. | AP file photo

Follow @neilsteinbergWhen the Sun-Times eliminated its library, years ago, I learned about it when our last librarian stuck her head into my office.

“Well, I’ve been fired and they’re shutting down the library,” she said. “Since you’re the only person who uses it, take what you want.”

I liberated a hand truck, muscled a couple 7-foot bookcases into my office, then started transferring the most useful volumes. As I did this, the librarian took a yellow legal pad and began writing down which titles I was removing. She didn’t get far before an awful realization clouded her face: it didn’t matter anymore. There would be no library for these books to be missing from, and no librarian to care where they were. She left me to my task.

That haunting moment came to me again this week, as protesters took to the street to decry the presidential election. To whom are they complaining? Donald Trump? The American people who just elected him? The czar? If only he knew!

What they accomplished was to comfort the very person they were protesting against, serving up a chance for the false equivalence that got him elected in the first place. See? Violence! These incidents counterbalance our candidate winning office by maligning vulnerable minorities for 18 months, his campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” itself a coded credo for nationalism.

Just setting my fingers on the keyboard conjures up the librarian’s moment of futility. What is the point of this exactly? To calm anxiety, or to stoke it? For the next four years we’ll pinball between the two, denial and outrage.


Follow @neilsteinbergDenial is seductive. Sunday I tuned in for Trump’s interview on “60 minutes,” where he minimized the hateful rhetoric that got him elected.

Maybe this won’t be so bad! I thought. Trump had shown himself to be a man who’ll say anything. Why cling to his past promises if he doesn’t?

The lout says he’s sorry, it’ll never happen again. Fear softens, and the knot in your gut unwinds.

Until the next time. Also Sunday, Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, former head of Breitbart News, as senior counselor and chief strategist. Neo-Nazis and Klansmen let out a cheer.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, released a statement:

Stephen Bannon, a man who led a media empire into becoming what a former Breitbart editor called a ‘a cesspool for white supremacist mememakers,’ simply has no business in the White House. In July, Bannon boasted that Breitbart News was ‘the platform for the alt-right.’ The alt-right, as we know, is simply a rebranding of white nationalism and is the energy behind the avalanche of racist and anti-Semitic harassment that plagued social media platforms for the entire presidential campaign. . . . In his victory speech, Trump pledged to be the president for ‘all Americans’ and to ‘bind the wounds of division’ in our country. Appointing someone like Bannon, who will have the president-elect’s ear every single day, makes a mockery of that pledge.

Is this how it’ll be? Calm words masking ominous actions? How to view this? There is denial: Bannon’s no worse than a lot of folks who padded around the Oval Office. Remember those Nixon tapes?

There is fear. What will Bannon be murmuring in Trump’s ear? Does this not cast a pall over everything Trump might propose? That federal force rounding up 2 million or 3 million illegal aliens with criminal backgrounds, who will Trump round up once they’re gone?

The several hundred library books I saved have proven helpful to me and, occasionally, to fellow reporters. They rush in and ask to borrow one for a story, thanking me profusely. I always reply: “Don’t thank me. It belongs to the newspaper. They all do. I’m just guarding them.”

We’re all guardians now, of what is important. Our nation’s head librarian is a man who does not read, who views the words behind true American greatness like a near-illiterate sounding out Shakespeare. If our American values are to survive, we will have to take responsibility for them as individuals. We’ve accepted Donald Trump. What else will we accept?

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