Bannon Appointment Should be a Disappointment to Kansans
Don C. Smith is an associate professor in the Sturm College of Law and former director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy Graduate Program. He has taught at the University of Denver since 2002. Smith is a member of the American Bar Association, the Association of International Petroleum Negotiators, the Colorado Bar Association, the International Bar Association and the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation.
It is with astonishment and trepidation that I have digested President-elect Donald Trump’s naming of Steven Bannon, a person with white supremacist leanings, to the top echelon of his new administration. This is especially true since I — a native Kansan — have come to respect the state’s long history of dealing with racial bigotry.
Nearly 100 years ago, my grandfather, William A. Smith, won the 1926 Republican nomination for Kansas attorney general in a campaign marked by the question of what to do about the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan was a strong political force at the time. He pledged to revoke the Klan’s corporate charter if elected. He defeated the Klan-endorsed opponent in the primary and went on to successfully take the charter away.
Subsequently in 1949 as a member of the Kansas Supreme Court, Justice Smith wrote a decision holding that a Johnson County school district was engaged in activities tantamount to segregation. That decision, Webb v. District No. 90, has been heralded by the Topeka-based Brown Foundation as a “prelude” to the famous 1954 Brown v. Topeka Board of Education decision, which outlawed “separate but equal.”
As I have attempted to understand the president-elect’s choice of Bannon, who managed the “alt-right” website known as Breitbart, I have struggled to understand how the Republican Party of 2016 relates to the Kansas Republican Party of the mid-20th century, of which my grandfather was a proud member his entire life.
President-elect Trump’s seeming indifference to the widespread support of his campaign by white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups, as illustrated by the choice of Bannon, has caught the attention of others as well. The Anti-Defamation League has referred to Bannon’s appointment as “a sad day” adding, “We call on president-elect Trump to appoint and nominate Americans committed to the well-being of all our country’s people.”
Similarly, the Southern Poverty Law Center described Bannon as “a man who led a media empire into becoming what a former Breitbart editor called a ‘cesspool for white supremacist mememakers,’ ” adding that he “had no business in the White House.”
This is not about whether Trump should have been elected. It is about insisting that members of the Trump administration be of such a character as to carry out the president-elect’s assertion that he will represent “all the people.” The choice of Bannon repudiates that statement.
Despite America’s struggles about race and ethnicity, surely we all can agree that we have come too far to be indifferent to the choice of Bannon.
Obviously the legacies of my grandfather, and many other anti-Klan leaders such as Emporia Gazette editor William Allen White, are now long ago. However, for any Kansan who respects civil decency to not to be outraged by this careless choice, I would only ask, what would former Republican stalwarts like my grandfather and White have to say about today’s Grand Old Party?