Throughout this election cycle, and certainly throughout President-elect Trump’s distressing campaign, I, as several others have often wondered: Who writes Donald Trump’s speeches?! From Trump’s paradoxical 2016 RNC speech ensuring that “anyone who endorses violence, hatred or oppression is not welcome in our country and never will be,” to an anxiously anticipated inaugural address, I am often left bewildered of how such political discourses can be grounded in unmistakable claims aimed to vilify immigrants, people of color, and practically anyone who does not consider themselves to be an “alt-right” henchman.
Well, thanks to Google, I quickly found out who it was behind some of Trump’s controversial speeches.
Meet Stephen Miller, a person I mostly remember as being an outspoken, conservative, seemingly racist teenager. In 2003, Stephan Miller and I graduated from Santa Monica High School, an educational institution grounded in inclusive, liberal ideologies which aim to celebrate diversity and freedom. Nestled a few blocks from the Pacific Ocean, and surrounded by the picturesque Santa Monica mountains, Santa Monica High School (or SAMOHI as us locals refer to it) seemed to be a breeding ground for politically active, environmentally conscious, diverse, and open-minded community members and classmates.
Yet somehow, SAMOHI’s approach to critical inquiry-based pedagogy, and political activism for the social good fell short of reaching Miller, and perhaps even ignited his ever growing opposition of heterogeneity. It is clear that our academic culture did not align with the soon-to-be radicalized Stephen Miller, who was infamously known on campus for his irritable temperament in classes, and misguided student government speeches.
Actually, let me step back before I move forward. It should be noted that I also went to Lincoln Middle School with Stephen, too. I vaguely remember him being a Star Trek fan, and for the most part, pretty quiet. He was in many of the advanced placement classes, and seemingly well behaved.
It was not until his high school years after reading Guns, Crime, and Freedom by NRA’s Wayne LaPierre that Miller started exhibiting some troublesome behavior. Some of these behaviors included, according to one of his classmates, “imposing his wills and views in government class” as well as accusing his AP Civics teacher of being “‘partisan’ when all she was doing was trying to teach civics and government.” On another occasion, specified by another classmate, Miller had an “outburst” at the American Legion Boys State because he was “kicked-out” of a mock city council for taking offensive “super rightwing stances.” And, in by far the saddest account, Stephen “friend dumped” one of his best middle school buddies for being of Latino heritage. Sad!
Stephen’s change in behavior post Guns, Crime, and Freedom led to some even more worrisome political stances.
His misguided rhetoric quickly began to stand on an eerily well structured political platform aimed to promote a growing “alt-right” movement. He continually found a voice for himself via the conservative leaning Larry Elder Show and The Santa Monica Lookout, a local newsletter-type website publishing the opinions of Santa Monica’s community members and other pertinent local news. As a high school junior in 2002, Miller published this unhinged piece, which emphasized that school announcements written in English and Spanish were making a “mockery of the American ideal,” and that our LGBTQ club on campus should be considered perhaps dangerous as it would “gladly help foster (student) homosexuality” via encouraging sexual activity between minors - which, was certainly not the purpose of the club, as it was established as a safe space for our campus’ youth.
Miller then went on to attend Duke University, where he gained national notoriety by accusing Maya Angelou of “racial paranoia,” and accused MEChA, a Latino-based student group, as a “radical national Hispanic group that believes in racial superiority.” Then, in 2009, Miller began working for ― no surprise here ― Jeff Sessions. It seems that Sessions, who was once known for being “too racist” in order to become a federal judge, found an ally in Miller.
Needless to say, Stephen Miller was as problematic then as he is now.
That said, one thing still bemuses: How did Stephen Miller grow up to be the person he is today? How did an inquiry-based and liberal education, along with what was then known as an upper class Jewish liberal-leaning family foster Stephen Miller’s opposition toward inclusivity and equity for all?
Well, it is clear that Miller’s interpretation of LaPierre’s book certainly had a big influence on him. But it seems that there might be something else which we could all be responsible for contributing to.
As stated by another former classmate of ours at SAMOHI, Miller often attended community meetings in an effort to give his opinions on how to improve the school district. He reflected that Miller contributed some “really offensive things” including that “his grandparents were immigrants and had become successful in this country without extra help, and therefore there should be no handouts for minorities.” He remembers Miller’s contributions as “bizarre,” yet noted that “no one stopped him from speaking” as he attended the meetings regularly. This classmate also went on to reflect that he has “never seen someone be more rude and yet treated more politely.”
And there it is.
Nobody stopped Stephen from speaking for being offensive, or challenged his ideology; thus Miller’s crude convictions went unsullied. Instead of being confronted with measured discourse encouraging Miller to perhaps take a more reflective and critical stance on his views, he was unintentionally given a loudspeaker, allowing him to strengthen his identity as a young “alt-right” privileged white male.
Maybe we all thought it was a phase at the time, that Miller was just rebelling against our “norm” by carving out a safe space for himself as “other,” because he was such a social outcast…
But this phase never ended, and has only grown more dangerous with time, and validation.
Now granted, this walk down memory lane is not to personally attack Stephen Miller in any way. It is merely a reminder, and reflection of how politically radicalized young white men such as Miller gain a political platform, and can become one of the nation’s most contentious presidential campaign speech writers. Moreover, it’s a grim warning of just how far unchecked white privilege can get you, and how dangerous it can be.
Perhaps if Stephen was any other race, class, or gender, he would be flagged for subscribing to a radicalized, terror-based discourse due to his political, persecution type views of minority populations. Yet, here we are destined for the Trump administration, and forced to digest the ideologies that a person like Stephen Miller subscribes to, no matter how apocryphal.
It strikes me that despite the hate-filled speeches and unjust political stances one may have, one thing is clear: if you are white enough, privileged enough, and more importantly, seemingly threatened by another race, gender, or political position, you can certainly secure a poultice for yourself in the “alt-right” movement, and tragically become the vernacular of a squeaky juicebox, or in this case, the next president of the United States of America.
All that said, sources posit that Miller’s been tapped to write Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. So, if you’re tuning into the inaugural ceremony, keep in mind who wrote it. And while you’re doing that, remember to problematize the politics found in Trump’s administration; try to challenge them intellectually, and talk about it with your family and friends.
It seems that this administration has, and will continue to disguise their personal nationalist, xenophobic based fear of minority populations as “just politics” ― but let us not forget that the personal is political.
Note: This piece was updated to retract an unconfirmed assertion that Stephen Miller attempted to found a white student union during his time at Santa Monica High School.
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