Politics

Goodbye, Stephen Miller

Stephen Miller walks on the White House lawn pulling a roller suitcase.
Photo by Olivier Douliery/Pool/Getty Images

There comes a point in every young man’s life when childish trolling threatens to become not just a mode of expression but a way of being. Most avoid that fate. They mature. They get busy. But a few do not. And then there’s Stephen Miller, who by all accounts spent his adolescence blasting right past that inflection point, into his current orbit as the provocateur in chief and petty tyrant of the White House’s anti-immigration crusade, so determined to Stick It to Them that his own boss would play “good cop” against him and other White House officials would look down when he entered the room. It’s impressive! And he’s exceptional in another way: Here in the twilight of the Trump presidency, when many of us are still puzzling over the career arcs of Bill Barr or Lindsey Graham or Susan Collins, Miller is in a rarified tier of villainy where armchair psychologizing or “how did he get heres” no longer apply. The damage he has done is all that matters.

Of the many things that no longer matter to me about Stephen Miller: that he is the only senior adviser to have survived—thrived—all four years of the term while not having sprung from or married into Trumpian gametes. Or that he was a jerk at Santa Monica High School, or that he capitalized on the Duke lacrosse rape allegations. I don’t care about his rapid ascent up the Michele Bachmann and Jeff Sessions staff ladder, or that he (and Jared Kushner) provided the rare sight of a fitted suit and skinny tie in the West Wing. I don’t care about the pitch of his voice, or his surprisingly wooden delivery at a podium, or that he got married. There’s much about his brutishly short life thus far that I don’t care to evaluate. There’s only one thing to know.

I found out I was going to be a father a month after Donald Trump’s inauguration and 15 months before the administration was revealed to have enacted a zero tolerance policy at the border, separating children from their parents as a deterrent. My son is 3 now and it still surprises me that he started his life at the center of my heart and yet still finds ways to move deeper into it. It falls under “necessary cliché” that there is a reserve of wholly uncivil white rage embedded in our animal DNA, available for activation at the thought of parents and children being taken from each other. As a parent, it’s a thing that you feel rather than understand. That mothers and fathers would die or kill for their children transforms from a maxim into a life.

Who Stephen Miller is doesn’t matter, in other words. Because while Stephen Miller was in the White House, thousands of children were forcibly marked with the trauma of being caged away from their parents, and hundreds may never see their parents again. And it happened on a scale far below what he’d pushed for. It’s difficult to write that dispassionately, and without some embarrassment: One would prefer to discuss federal policy without losing one’s shit, and yet no other response feels commensurate or honest.

The hardest thing to resist at times like these is the desire for Old Testament justice, an eye for an eye. I’m not saying Stephen Miller should suffer. Stephen Miller’s foulness is an idea that has been given shape and breath by Stephen Miller the person. And the idea needs to be chased down and stamped out. You are free to perform all manner of medieval torture on an idea! The cruelty, the abuse, the hatred—all this must be destroyed with a kind of berserk fervor. But he’s also a man. And like all men who commit crimes against humanity, he should be imprisoned by the society he wounded, forever prevented from spreading his pestilence and fear. In a just world, this reckoning would happen right on Jan. 21. It won’t. But one way or another, he will have to leave that building and its protection, and it’s a day that cannot come fast enough.

This is part of a series of goodbyes to Trumpworld figures. Read the rest here.