Alarm after Trump appoints firebrand conservative

Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon in the lobby of Trump Tower as the President–elect made his first staffing decisions.

Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon in the lobby of Trump Tower as the President–elect made his first staffing decisions. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty

Democrats and critics of President–elect Donald Trump are ringing loud alarm bells after the appointment of a man who calls himself “alt–right” as his chief strategist.

Firebrand conservative Stephen Bannon is a fierce critic of House Speaker Paul Ryan, and is the man who spearheaded Breitbart News website’s shift into a forum for the “alt-right”, a loose online confederation of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-Semites.

Mr Trump tapped Washington insider Reince Priebus – a friend of Mr Ryan’s – as White House chief of staff, which should help him repair his strained relations with the Republican Party establishment in Washington.

But Mr Bannon’s appointment swings in the other direction, giving a nod to right–wing activists who helped sweep him into office. 

His critics say, among far worse accusations, that his goal is to burn down the establishment. He has been described as a “master of the dark arts”.

Bannon and Priebus would work “as equal partners to transform the federal government”, Trump said in a statement.

Democrats were outraged by the choice of Bannon, calling him a promoter of racism and misogyny who is backed by the white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan.

In morning television interviews on Monday, Priebus defended Bannon as a wise and well-educated former naval officer and said he had not encountered the sort of extremist or racist views that critics are assailing.

Hardline Trump backers counting on the wealthy real estate developer to keep his campaign promise to “drain the swamp” of business-as-usual Washington insiders may be disappointed he has named Priebus as chief of staff, a position that serves as gatekeeper and agenda-setter for the president.

Since the election, Trump has softened one of his major campaign promises of building a wall along the US border with Mexico to keep out illegal immigrants. In an interview with 60 Minutes on Sunday, Trump said he would accept some fencing instead of a brick-and-mortar wall.

Trump also sought to play down the divisive nature of his candidacy and said Americans alarmed by his election had nothing to fear.

The president-elect and his transition team are working on picking members of his Cabinet and the heads of federal agencies.

Among those reported to be under consideration for top posts are former US House Speaker Newt Gingrich, as a possible secretary of state or secretary of health and human services; Stephen Hadley, former national security adviser under President George W. Bush, as a possible defence secretary; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as attorney general; and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as interior secretary.

– with Susan Cornwell and Alana Wise

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