He may be the closest one gets to understanding the Donald. Stephen K Bannon, the banker-turned-screenwriter-turned-chief strategist, is the main force behind many recent decisions by US President Donald Trump. And the man setting the course for the most powerful nation on Earth is himself reportedly influenced by an Indian text: Bhagavad Gita, and its concept of dharma.
For those not very familiar with Bannon: Prior to taking up the job in the White House, he steered the faltering Trump campaign to one of the biggest upsets in US presidential election history. Before plunging into politics, Bannon was the executive chair for Breitbart News, a news and opinion website he once famously described as a "platform for the alt-right". He had also done stints with Goldman Sachs, Hollywood and the US Navy.
After the election, he was credited with giving the Trump administration some semblance of political philosophy. He helped draft the president’s inaugural address, and was reportedly behind the stalled ban on travel from seven Muslim countries. He speaks of "sovereignty", "economic nationalism" and opposition to globalisation - all of which offers some insight into his worldview.
This piece in the New York Times though suggests what drives 63-year-old Bannon is not his politics or his ideology. “He has a respect for duty,” his former screenwriting collaborator Julia Jones told the NYT.
"The word he has used a lot is ‘dharma.’...He found the concept of dharma in the Bhagavad Gita."
It's not very clear how Bannon comprehends the Sanskit word dharma. The article suggested 'one’s path in life or one’s place in the universe'. This one in The Diplomat however, contextualises it as 'righteousness, but also duty'.
This devotion to the Gita is despite Bannon believing that capitalism in US should rest on a “Judeo-Christian” foundation. Trump’s chief ideologue has never explained what he means by that.