This weekend, White House Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller was forced out of a CNN studio after Jake Tapper cut him off in an interview for “[wasting] enough of my viewers’ time.” Miller spent the interview praising Donald Trump and bashing the media, which anyone who’s read Fire and Fury would expect, since he is one of the President’s most sycophantic aides. Since he was a young man, he has been a professional antagonizer, spewing hate against anyone whom he deems unpatriotic or un-American. These views were laid bare for all to see in his columns for the Duke Chronicle, the student newspaper where he contributed op-eds in his junior and senior years. Having now read every one of his columns, it is no surprise that the racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant Miller would find a home in the Trump Administration.
Miller wastes no time establishing his views in his first essay, “Welcome to Leftist University,” in September 2005. The impetus for it is a freshman welcome speech delivered by Maya Angelou, whose work he dismisses as “tired, multicultural cliches.” Choosing Angelou as the speaker almost every year reflects the “racial paranoia” of the Duke campus, which is so obsessed with multiculturalism that they had a separate luncheon for incoming black freshmen during welcome week! “Call me a sentimental fool,” he writes, “but I agree with Martin Luther King Jr. and don’t think that we should divide people based on the color of their skin.” Why not build relations among Duke’s African-American students from day one? It’s no different than schools having a Hillel for Jewish students, or spaces for Asian-American students. And it’s funny hearing a man who has little respect for diversity appropriate Dr. King’s words.
Whenever he can, Miller bashes women and people of color. His essay mansplaining the wage gap is filled with palpable condescension: he claims that the reason women earn less is because they take lower-paying jobs, like teaching and social work, whereas men do hazardous work like construction, and therefore deserve to get paid more. In the same essay, he comes out against paid maternity leave for women because “it’s easy to support such legislation until you end up getting laid off because your boss was losing too much money by paying absent employees.” If he thinks mothers are “absent employees,” then I fear for whoever decides to have his kids.
As for his anti-POC views, read his horrifying essay on the fifth anniversary of 9-11. In it, he encourages his readers to learn of “the severed limbs and charred corpses,” and the “stretches of concrete” where innocent men, women and children were “reduced to piles of flesh,” so that we can ask vital questions regarding the security of our nation: why aren’t the borders secure? Why are there still so many illegal immigrants? Why do we give them drivers licenses? “Our enemy yearns to attack with all the force of Sept. 11 multiplied a hundred times,” he writes. “What will it take for us to understand?” Miller wants to call us to arms with his pornographic descriptions of the day’s events, and it, along with his Death Wish-style essay demanding the death penalty for rapists, foreshadow his co-writing of Trump’s inaugural, with its famous cry to end the “American carnage.”
These chimeric hates come together in an essay titled “Paranoia” from 2006, which recreates an encounter between Miller and an offended female Duke student who called him “racist” to his face. After dismissing her arguments with his trademark snark, he says:
“You have a mental disease. You’re obsessed with race. You see everything in terms of race, and you see everyone who disagrees with your worldviews as a racist. And guess what? Almost everybody you’ve been talking to thinks something is wrong with you. They’ve come up to me and told me. they’re just afraid to tell you what they think because they’re worried you’ll call them a racist.”
If Miller actually said that to her face, it’s not a far cry from when he reprimanded Jim Acosta in the White House briefing room last summer for suggesting that Miller only wanted English-speaking immigrants to enter the country. In both incidents, he takes what he’s accused of and turns those back on his accuser, painting them as the bad guys and himself as the victim. It’s also what he did in the Jake Tapper interview – when someone says your behavior is offensive, turn it back on the accuser and say it’s their behavior that’s worse.
But for me, the most disturbing of all his essays, and the one that most reflects his worldview, is “Welcome to the Durham Petting Zoo.” Written in April 2006, the piece describes the bad town-and-gown relations between Durham, North Carolina, and Duke, claiming that because the city is such a crime-ridden wasteland which only exists because of the university, why should students feel like they have to interact with locals at all? “If we want to stay on campus,” he writes, “then we have nothing to apologize for. If anything, the insistence on interacting with Durham locals is condescending to the town residents. Durham isn’t a petting zoo.”
“When I was a freshman…I was told to make a birthday card for one of the janitors that serviced my dorm. As I enjoy talking with people, I had struck up a few conversations with this janitor, but I knew she would not have expected a birthday card from me anymore than I would from her. Yet we were all supposed to send our birthday wishes to the janitor as though she had no friends or life of her own.
This insulting act of condescension was driven by guilt and the idea that we are in the janitors’ debt. In reality, it’s an issue of mutual benefit. The janitors need a job, which we provide, and we need someone to professionally clean the common areas of our dormitories, which they provide. Accordingly, we are thankful for each other, and no one owes anyone anything other than kindness and respect.”
This brings to mind the incident by which I first learned of Miller – his speech for high school student council at SamoHi, located a few minutes from my high school in Santa Monica, California, where we both spent a lot of time growing up. (I also resent the fact that Miller, a west-side native, calls LA “crime-infested” in the essay when Santa Monica is one of the cushiest areas of Southern California.) In the speech, he asks, “Am I the only one who is sick and tired of being told to pick up my trash when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us?” The incriminating line comes at 2:02 in this video below, and the reaction it got from his fellow students was one of disgust – except for his one Republican friend, who writes it off as a joke.
Miller’s disrespect for janitors symbolizes a severe lack of compassion for anyone in a low wage job. He doesn’t care about the life story behind the janitor or the bus driver. “I had struck up a few conversations” with them, he remarks, but about what? Did he learn anything about this person’s life? I’m not saying that you have to have a detailed conversation with every person who works behind a counter or mops your floor, but at least acknowledge that there’s a human being there right next to you, with their own wants, loves, and fears. He reduces his interactions with these people to mere transactions – you do this for me, I do this for you, I don’t owe you anything else. “No one owes anyone anything other than kindness and respect,” he concludes in the essay, but it doesn’t seem like he believes in passing down the same kindness and respect to those who perform services which benefit him.
So, no matter how vile the rest of Miller’s essays may be, it’s this one that I think best codifies his worldview. Whatever wound he’s nursing that he’s never let heal, whatever makes him lash out at the world in this way, it must be something serious, because if the thought of sending a janitor a birthday card can unleash such anger, then it’s clear that men like him should never be allowed to have such sway over other people’s lives.
Jeremy Fassler is a writer and journalist living in Brooklyn, New York.