I Will Defeat Steve Bannon

I am a Muslim American and I vow to combat Steve Bannon’s divisive narrative, through democracy, unity and peace. As I watch Steve Bannon’s growing stable of alt-right zealots make headway with the GOP base, I feel compelled to push back. I am running to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for Congress in the 2018 election, to serve New York’s 11th district, which encompasses Staten Island and South Brooklyn.

Michael Grimm, a former Congressman, officially announced a primary challenge to incumbent, Dan Donovan. Grimm resigned in 2015 and spent seven months in a federal penitentiary after pleading guilty to tax fraud.

Grimm held a Trumpian rally in New Dorp, Staten Island. He addressed a crowd of a few hundred supporters who had been greeted by cheerleaders and refreshments when they arrived. Michael Grimm’s plea:

"I ask you once again to give me your confidence, to give me your support as I announce my candidacy to be your representative for New York’s 11th congressional district!" The 25-minute long speech ended in cheers of “USA”.

We recently learned that soon after the rally, Grimm made a pilgrimage to the so-called “Breitbart Embassy” in Washington, DC. Last night, using the Twitter handle @RealMGrimm, a picture was posted of Grimm with Steve Bannon. The caption: “Game on! #MAGA.”

Michael Grimm kissed Steve Bannon’s ring.

Fresh off the high of Roy Moore’s primary win in Alabama, Bannon has now set his sights on the Big Apple. New York City, a liberal enclave, is mostly dark blue. The notable exception is Staten Island. The concentration of Trump supporters on the south shore makes it dark red on the political map, so much so that it could be mistaken for parts of West Virginia, or perhaps, Alabama. Bannon is betting that the kind of divisive rhetoric that served Moore so well will similarly aid Grimm’s bid in the 11th District.

Roy Moore once suggested that Muslims be barred from serving in Congress. If elected, I would be one of only three Muslim Americans to serve, and of those I would be the first of Southeast-Asian descent. Needless to say, I disagree heartily with Mr. Moore. I am tempted to go further and say that the people would be better served if bigots and climate change deniers were kept out of our governing bodies.

But the Constitution does not allow any such litmus tests to be applied to legislators. Whereas Mr. Moore seems to conflate the Bible and the Constitution into a single non-existent document, I believe in a secular government and equality for all under the law, regardless of religion, race, or gender. I am a proud supporter of LGBTQ+ rights, Planned Parenthood and Black Lives Matter. I am a Muslim who does not believe in the primacy of any text in American law besides the Constitution. I am not the stereotype that Mr. Moore imagines, and wants me to be.

As a Muslim who loves this country, I am incomprehensible to Roy Moore, as well as the whole Breitbart wing of the Republican Party. I was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I am of Gujarati Indian heritage. I attended excellent public schools, and grew up with diverse schoolmates. I live with my partner Mary and our two rescue dogs in Brooklyn. I am an I.A.T.S.E. Local 52 union worker and I have worked on television shows like, The Get Down, and Homeland. My life, along with millions of others, is anathema to the insidious idea that all Muslim Americans are terrorist sympathizers, enemies of their country. Because the truth is that, in my life, I have been embraced by my fellow countrymen, just as I have embraced them. Bannon is using his Breitbart machine to raise the spectre of divided loyalties, a common tactic of fear-based politics. It was used perhaps most famously against John F. Kennedy at a time when some in the country were nervous about whether electing a Catholic President might mean giving the Pope de facto control over the United States. Bannon and those he anoints, like Roy Moore and Michael Grimm, are playing an old game. But if history has taught us anything, it is that theirs is a losing game. Progress always, after a fight, prevails.

In the short term, however, the Republican party’s recent rightward lurch in the 11th District threatens to victimize local communities. Michael Grimm has attacked Rep. Dan Donovan for “siding with Democrats” on health care and DACA, and Donovan, feeling the heat of a potential primary loss to Grimm, has responded by moving further to the right. This week, he voted to authorize Trump’s border wall, despite outcry from his constituents who would rather see infrastructure spending on projects closer to home. Grimm is facing an uphill fight, too, as Donovan is avowedly pro-Trump. He supported the initial Muslim travel ban, changes to the tax code that would benefit the very wealthy, and regularly applauds the President. The Republican Party of Staten Island has decided Donovan is their guy. Grimm, like Roy Moore in Alabama, is hoping his affiliation with Bannon leads to an insurgent victory in the primary. But while the Republican party is busy eating its own in districts across the country, constituents will find that their interests have fallen by the wayside. I aim to ensure that does not happen in the 11th District.

Bannon is driven to divide America. I believe America works best when we unite. When our national conversation is focused overwhelmingly on spectacle, we neglect the larger issues of health care, income inequality, climate action, reducing corporate influence, and workers’ rights.

Let us, instead, keep our eyes on the prize and focus on the issues that matter. Let us vow to one another not to be taken in by distractions. Together, we can take on the Breitbart machine, beat Roy Moore and Michael Grimm.

I, Omar Vaid, will defeat Steve Bannon.