Reader: Are you someone who is angry in an inchoate way at the Trump administration as an institution but who would prefer to focus your anger like a laser beam on specific individuals? We at The Baffler are here to help! As a wise man once told my father while trying to sell him a program at a Knicks game, “They’re just a bunch of tall guys in shorts, without a program”—and so, too, the various hangers-on in the Trump orbit may seem to be just a bunch of transparent grifters and/or terrifying ideologues in suits unless you have a clear guide for who the players are. We plan to bring you the key stats and career highlights of all the best people in the administration, as well as those who are “too hot” for government service and end up bounced out to the 2020 campaign, various 501c3 scams, or who just end up on the semi-consensual receiving end of those rambling “executive time” phone calls. Today we bring you the guy whose unerring political instincts led him to believe that jails for children would be good optics for the Trump administration: Stephen Miller!
Just a few innocent years ago, red-blooded Americans heard the name “Steve Miller” and mostly thought about the performer of such classic rock hits as “Take the Money and Run” and “The Joker.” But now, instead of playfully arguing about what exactly the “pompatus of love” is, Americans are somehow treated to the question of “Should children as young as a few months old be separated from their parents and placed in internment camps with no real plan in place to ever reunite them with their families?” as a legitimate political argument on which people of good faith can disagree, and in large part we have Stephen Miller, the president’s senior advisor for policy, to thank! What road did this non-rock-star Steve Miller take to arrive at President Trump’s side? Let’s take a look at STEPHEN MILLER: ORIGINS to find out.
Stephen Miller is the descendent of non-English speaking refugees from a culture very unlike our own! In 1906, a family from a minority religion fleeing persecution in a backwards foreign empire arrived in the United States. No doubt they claimed that they wanted to assimilate to our ways, but after a full four years the mother of this clan only spoke her native tongue, not English. When will the multiculturalist mollycoddling that allows this kind of flaunting of American cultural norms end? Anyway, that was Stephen Miller’s great-grandmother, surprise!
Stephen Miller liked Star Trek but missed the point! Like many of us, Stephen Miller was a nerd in junior high, and like many nerds, he enjoyed watching and talking about Star Trek with his pals. But one pal from Miller’s Santa Monica youth, Jason Islas, found himself abruptly cut out of Miller’s social circle in the summer before high school because, as Miller told him, “I can’t be your friend any more because you are Latino.” Has the early 21st century ever been so foreshadowed than the moment in 1998 when an angry white male tween fan of a popular sci-fi series known for its liberal attitudes suddenly became a racist?
What put young Trekkie Stephen Miller on the bad path? Was it the trauma he suffered when his family’s economic fortunes turned and they were forced to move to the less tony part of Santa Monica? Was it, as Miller himself claimed, when in 7th grade he bought a copy of Guns & Ammo to artificially inflate his own numbers in a magazine-selling contest? Was he just from a family who was already conservative, as evidenced by the fact that they bailed out of their left-leaning Santa Monica synagogue after Stephen finished Hebrew school?
Stephen Miller was Santa Monica High School’s favorite heel! Whatever it was that made him Stephen Miller, he definitely was Stephen Miller by the time his high school career got into full swing. He took special joy in clashing with liberals and liberal groups there, on topics ranging from the theoretical (“He confronted everyone, denying that racism existed. He said that was a thing of the past”) to the practical (attempting to undermine “a district committee that was scrutinizing the community fundraising imbalance between wealthier and poorer campuses”). Eventually his classmates made a documentary about what an asshole he was, the centerpiece of which was footage of a “joke” he told during a campaign speech for a student election about how he should be able to throw trash on the floor whenever he wanted because the school employed janitors to pick up after him. (It was a little too early in America’s political evolution for this to be a winning campaign speech.)
He managed to forge a relationship as a teen with conservative talk radio host Larry Elder by sending him lots of messages until Elder let him on his show. He also made pals with David Horowitz, which served him well, as we’ll see in a moment!
Stephen Miller was a conservative gadfly columnist in college! Once he got to Duke (haha, Duke, obviously!) Miller snagged himself a column in the Chronicle, Duke’s student newspaper. Topics included:
- Multiculturalism (it’s bad)
- Paid family leave (it forces bosses to pay absent employees and fire men to afford it)
- Torture (by being against it, Ted Kennedy is a traitor, morally if not legally)
- Gay TV shows (they’re bad)
- Giving a birthday card to your dorm janitor (it’s condescending; this was also the column where he laid out his gangsta bona fides by saying “Coming from a violent city myself (Los Angeles), I personally don’t feel unsafe when going off-campus”)
They’re all still online, so take a look for yourself, at your leisure! And Miller was no mere keyboard warrior. He also worked with supposedly handsome Nazi Richard Spencer, then a Duke grad student, to bring a white nationalist speaker to campus. But don’t worry! Miller told The Daily Beast in 2016 that he strongly condemns Richard Spencer’s views, because apparently he felt like he had to do that, at least in 2016.
Stephen Miller worked for some of America’s worst Congresspeople! After graduating from Duke, Miller got the job every campus conservative hopes for: as a staffer for a right-wing member of Congress. He started out in the communications department for noted wackadoo Michele Bachmann; in a 2011 article about what a nightmare she was as a boss, Miller was the only ex-staffer who said anything nice about her. All the recent profiles of Miller have him working with Team Brietbart on Dave Brat’s shocking primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor; he’s not name-checked in any of the articles from the time, though Brat’s anti-immigrant rhetoric sure seems to have Miller’s fingerprints on it. Some Virginia politics Twitter folks seem to think he was “on loan” to da Brat’s campaign from his paying job as a staffer for Jeff Sessions.
And who’s in charge of that shitshow? Stephen Miller.
And it was at Sessions’ office, where Miller landed thanks to a relationship with Horowitz, where he really came into his own as an extremely irritating anti-immigration crusader. As the Senate “Gang of Eight” tried to forge an immigration reform bill that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers, Miller sent out endless emails to staffers in other members’ offices. (He was particularly focused on what a terrible squishy RINO Marco Rubio was.) And though the bill passed the Senate with a broad majority, it crashed and burned in the House, leading directly to the complete shitshow we have today.
And who’s in charge of that shitshow? Stephen Miller. Miller said “I wish [Trump]’d run for president” as early as 2014, and helped bring Sessions onto Team Trump the next year. That move worked out great for exactly one person: Stephen Miller. Just as Miller managed to distance himself from erstwhile pal Steve Bannon as the Brietbart editor fell from Trump’s favor, so too will he presumably survive if Trump finally gets around to firing Sessions. He seems like a cool guy to hang out and watch Star Trek with!
SIDEBAR: LETTERS, WE GET LETTERS!
In 2002, the Santa Monica Lookout published a letter to the editor under the headline “Political Correctness out of Control” that began “My name is Stephen Miller. I am a sixteen year-old junior at Santa Monica High School.” You owe it to yourself to read the entire thing, preserved on the Lookout’s website for the interest of historians, but here’s a succinct summarized list of his grievances, which pretty much sums up Trumpism in a nutshell:
- Lotta kids at the school don’t speak English well
- Ever notice there aren’t very many Latinos in the honors classes?
- Announcements are made in Spanish and English
- They’re giving out condoms to teens
- Teens can join a gay-straight alliance and nobody tells their parents
- We don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance, even though district policy says we’re supposed to
- Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving do not feature lessons on “our brave U.S. soldiers or the courageous pilgrims”
- Do you think we should’ve “lived with the Indians, learning how to finger paint and make tepees” rather than defeating Hitler and Communism?
- Teachers are mean to President Bush!
- A Muslim leader was invited “to explain the splendor of Islam,” but no one was invited to explain the splendor of … America?
- When the war in Afghanistan started, teachers were swift to preach non-violence rather than patriotism
He wraps it all up by saying “Osama Bin Laden”—a famous supporter of gay rights and non-violence—would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School.