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Donald Trump's “brain” Stephen Miller is also obsessed with Muslims and Mexicans

It would be no exaggeration to call the president's senior policy adviser an extremist.

Remember how the White House adviser and arch-schemer Karl Rove was dubbed “Bush’s brain”? Stephen Miller fills that role for Donald Trump.

The balding, skinny-tie-wearing Miller, aged just 31, serves as White House senior adviser on policy and has played an outsized role in the Trump administration so far. He was the author of Trump’s dystopian inaugural address, with its dark invocation of “American carnage”, and also wrote the president’s first speech to Congress, with its hyperbolic references to “lawless chaos” and “radical Islamic terrorism”. He was the co-architect, with Steve Bannon, of Executive Order 13679, better known as the “Muslim ban”, and went on cable news to denounce the federal judges who ruled against it, claiming: “The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

One former colleague has described Miller as “a true believer in every sense of the word” with “a better understanding of the president’s vision than almost anyone”. Miller, in fact, was one of Trump's early adopters: in 2014, he emailed friends saying: “Trump gets it. I wish he’d run for president.” In January 2016, he quit his job with conservative Senator – now Attorney General – Jeff Sessions and joined the insurgent Trump campaign, soon becoming a a warm-up act for the property tycoon at his frenzied campaign rallies.

Within the White House, where he was once seen only as a Bannon acolyte, the shrewd and ambitious Miller has today positioned himself also as a close ally of Jared and Ivanka.

In recent weeks, he has become the public face of the administration’s hard-line immigration policy, taking to the White House press room podium – after the resignation of the mendacious Sean Spicer as communications director and the sacking of his foul-mouthed replacement, Anthony Scaramucci, ten days later – and loudly clashing with the CNN reporter Jim Acosta over the new plan to give preference to immigrants who speak English.

In the teeming cast of White House grotesques, the dead-eyed Miller – “He looks like the hitchhiker other hitchhikers stay away from,” joked the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers – stands out as a paradoxical figure. Though he is Jewish and was born and raised in liberal Los Angeles County, Miller has the most extensive ties to the white nationalist movement of any White House adviser, Steve Bannon included.

It would not be an exaggeration to call Miller an extremist – and one whose extremism goes back to his teenage years. “He believes multiculturalism is a weakness, that when we celebrate our differences we are ignoring our ‘American culture’,” his former high school classmate Nick Silverman recalled on Facebook in February. “He didn’t like someone from El Salvador celebrating their homeland, or someone from Vietnam bringing in food from their country of origin. He wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country.”

Other former classmates told the US Spanish-language news network Univision that Miller “used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well”. One student, Jason Islas, claims that Miller told him they could not be friends because of the former’s “Latino heritage”.

In a high school newspaper column written three months after 9/11 and entitled “A Time to Kill”, Miller also mocked the idea of Islam as “peaceful” or “benign” and demanded a violent response to “millions of radical Muslims”. Later, he worked with David Horowitz – dubbed an “anti-Muslim extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – to organise “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on college campuses.

To recap: for more than a decade, Miller’s biggest obsessions have been race and culture; Mexicans and Muslims. Who does that remind you of? The truth is that his boss – who has retweeted neo-Nazis and received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan – has recruited a motley crew of far-right nativists to serve in his White House. Bannon, the chief strategist, has bragged about how he turned Breitbart News into “the platform for the alt-right”. Sebastian Gorka, who serves as a “deputy assistant” to the president, is alleged to have once been a member of a far-right Hungarian group.

Miller is a former university pal of the white supremacist Richard Spencer, who has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Spencer referred to himself as a “mentor” to Miller, telling the Daily Beast that he “spent a lot of time with him at Duke [University]… I hope I expanded his thinking.”

Miller was quick to deny any relationship with Spencer. “I completely repudiate his views,” the Trump adviser told Mother Jones last October. But does he really? In his recent clash over immigration with CNN’s Acosta – which has led to reports that he may be promoted to White House communications director – Miller denounced the reporter for his “cosmopolitan bias”. As commentators and historians have since observed, that deeply loaded phrase has both racist and anti-Semitic connotations.

Let’s be clear: the Trump administration’s plans to cut legal immigration in half and prioritise the speaking of English by new applicants have nothing to do with economics or national security and everything to do with Making America White Again. As the academic Carol Anderson observed in the New York Times, the “guiding principle” of his administration “is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage”. (The administration’s support for this immigration bill is also a classic example of Trumpian hypocrisy – the president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump arrived in the US from Germany in 1885, unable to speak English, while according to the 1910 census, Miller’s great-grandmother could speak only Yiddish.)

It cannot be pointed out often enough that this is not in any way, shape or form a normal Republican or even conservative administration. Forget the serial dishonesty and astonishing dysfunction. This is a White House that indulges and panders to far-right bigots and nativists in both coded and not-so-coded language; a government of white nationalists, by white nationalists, for white nationalists. The rise and rise of the odious Stephen Miller, from high school provocateur to senior White House adviser – and maybe now even communications director – is worrying proof of that.

Mehdi Hasan is an NS contributing editor. He is based in Washington, DC

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 10 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, France’s new Napoleon

Martha Kearney. CREDIT: GETTY
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Why Radio 4’s Martha Kearney is the best presenter on the BBC

In Kearney, the BBC has (for once) identified the right star.

“But when you have a regime that’s apparently prepared to use chemical weapons on his own people, doesn’t that add an urgency to it? Isn’t that the need of the avoidance of extreme humanitarian distress?” Martha Kearney speaks to Shami Chakrabati about the bombing in Syria during a Monday morning of interviews while co-presenting her fourth edition of the Today programme (her first was 7 April.)

The way she delivered the word “apparently” encapsulated why she is the best general-purpose presenter the BBC has bar none. She put a faint breath of parenthesis around it, in a way that didn’t sound vetted by lawyers, but perfectly natural. While very characteristic (she is ever the sun rather than the wind, but can burst with an almost-annoyed “hang on!” when interrupting), this was someone instinctively a long way from being aware of their own brand. How freakish a breed the political interviewer generally is. Freakish because of their proximity to a delusion of mattering – a delusion that they “set the agenda”. One could always kind of forgive Jeremy Paxman because he’s just a peculiar, sui generis kind of guy. But Kearney has never been a stymied celebrity or comedian (see Nick Robinson or Eddie Mair) or a wannabe intellectual (see James Naughtie’s more recent interviews with authors. The crenellated frown in his voice, as though this were Gore Vidal talking to Abraham Lincoln.)

Even with the perfectly okay Laura Kuenssberg, you occasionally sense someone who hopes that Meryl Streep might play her in the biopic. Whereas Martha is simply exactly what she wants to be: a presenter of general affairs on radio and TV. In response, Chakrabati was more forthcoming, less thrusting and careerist. More got said. That old Today style of interview is dead. Super-confrontational, internally high-fiving, frankly impolite. It contributed nothing to British society. It made politicians more defensive and bland, entrenched in positions and sowing discord (and equally freakish). They became like footballers, poised to say less and less. The ego of the media has been a key player in the diminishment of British public discourse. But in Kearney the BBC has (for once) identified the right star. 

Today
BBC Radio 4

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 April 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Enoch Powell’s revenge