Language is contextual, and as such it is impossible to know what is
meant by a given phrase without considering the context. This quote has been widely repeated out of context, and the original interview from Nov 5, 2015 is very hard to track down. I found it at mp3musicsite and will provide the actual transcript so you can get the flow of the conversation. I think in context his meaning is quite clear.
At 16:24 in the interview, Steve Bannon asked Trump the following question about the H1B visa controversy:
What do you think about this situation where you have American
companies, particularly technology companies, that are letting go
highly-trained American IT workers, blowing them out, having them
train their replacements and hiring foreign workers. Just generally
what's your sense of that?
No good, it's no good, I mean we have to do something about it. And,
you know, people are coming in and they're taking jobs, and they're
getting paid less money, and they're -- you know, a lot of things are
happening, a lot of bad things. You know, having... and a lot of it
has to do with borders, a lot of it has to do with [inaudible].
Trump then launches into a clarification his his position:
You know one of the things I did say, though, and I feel strongly
about this. When somebody's going to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn,
Stangord, all the great... and they graduate, and not only graduate
but do great, and we throw them out of the country, and they can't get
back in, I think that's terrible. We've gotta keep, we've got to be
able to keep great people in the country. We've got to create, you
know, job creators.
One man went to -- I thnk it was Harvard, I think there was a story a
month ago -- went to Harvard, did well, wanted to stay in the country,
wasn't allowed to, went back to his home in India, started up a
company, now its a very very successful company with thousands of
people. He wanted to do that here.
We have to be careful of that Steve. We have to keep our talented
people in this country. I think you agree with that, do you agree with
At this point Steve Bannon responds to Trump's question:
Well I got a tougher — you know, when two thirds or three quarters of
the CEOs in Silicon Valley are from South Asia or from Asia, I think —
on, my point is, a country’s more like, [inaudible], a country’s more
than an economy. We’re a civic society.
Steve makes three clear statements: (1) a lot of CEOs in Silicon Valley are from asia; (2) a country is more than an economy; (3) the USA is a civic society.
The first statement is a response to Trump's statement that we are sending all the talented foreigners home. Steve is saying that, as evidenced by all the CEOs, we actually are keeping many talented immigrants. Or, "it's not as bad as you make it sound."
The second statement is a response to Trump's focus on the economic aspect. He does not deny that the economy is important, but he says we have to consider more than just economics.
He clarifies what he means by this in the third statement. Civics is defined as "the study of the rights and duties of citizenship." So he is saying that we have a duty to each other, to consider the welfare of our fellow citizens. We have to be about more than just corporate profits. Just having a healthy economy is not enough if our fellow citizen is impoverished in obtaining it -- my rights do not trump your rights.
That of course raises the question of whether our fellow citizens have a right to work and make a decent wage. I think Steve is arguing that they do, at least insofar as they are citizens and participants in the common wealth of the nation.
He then starts to say "I want to see..." but then Trump interrupts to talk about how to improve immigration and we never get to hear what Steve's solution to the H1B problem is.
This statement has been widely interpreted as being about immigration and xenophobia, which is clearly it is not. It is about the H1B policy and the effect it has on the economy and on people. Trump had just finished talking about immigration being a good thing, and Steve does not challenge that.