President-elect Donald Trump made his first two key personnel appointments on Sunday, offering a glimpse into what the White House will look like come January 20.
The appointment of Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, as chief of staff may have been a sign of a tamer, more "establishment" Trump administration than promised, were it not for the accompanying appointment of Steve Bannon, former head of the right-wing Breitbart News website.
Mr. Bannon, whose news site serves as an online community of sorts for the "alt-right" movement and who has himself been accused of harboring anti-Semitic and white nationalist views, will serve as Trump's chief strategist and senior counselor to the president. Among Breitbart readers and many other Trump supporters, the announcement was celebrated as an official validation of alt-right values and a rejection of Washington norms.
"So much of the media mocked us, laughed at us, called us all sorts of names," Alexander Marlow, the site's editor in chief, told The New York Times. "And then for us to be seen as integral to the election of a president, despite all of that hatred, is something that we certainly enjoy, and savor."
But to critics of Bannon, the appointment signifies something much darker.
"President-elect Trump's choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that white supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump's White House," Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate minority leader Harry Reid, said in a statement. "It is easy to see why the KKK views Trump as their champion when Trump appoints one of the foremost peddlers of white supremacist themes and rhetoric as his top aide."
The move also adds to concerns about press freedom under a Trump administration, as some worry that Bannon's appointment could lead to Breitbart – which throughout the campaign published numerous conspiracy theories involving Hillary Clinton and leaders of the Republican Party establishment, including House Speaker Paul Ryan – becoming a media weapon for the White House.
"It will be as close as we are ever going to have – hopefully – to a state-run media enterprise," Kurt Bardella, a former Breitbart spokesman who quit the site this year on the grounds that it had turned into a de facto "super PAC" for Trump, told the Times.
Jason Miller, communications director for the Trump presidential transition, defended the decision on Monday, telling CNN’s "New Day" that Bannon had done a "fantastic job" in working with Trump, and lamenting divisive post-election news coverage.
"If you’ve seen the president-elect since the election, he’s taken a very measured tone," Mr. Miller said. "He’s made it very clear that he’s going to get to work for the American people right away and that he’s moved past the election. What I think is frustrating is when we see so much news coverage ... on the issues that divide us following the election. I think that’s irresponsible."