Posted Wednesday, February 15, 2017.
How the senior advisor to Our Mr. President Trump is like the whiny, self-pitying villain of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
“Stephen's passion for drawing attention to the plight of middle Americans—men and women of all ethnicities and backgrounds—is unmatched, as he believes (correctly in my opinion) that elites in both culture and government who disdain them have left them behind over recent decades––and Stephen is determined to change course...”
Doesn’t that sound special? A passion for the plight of middle Americans of all ethnicities and backgrounds? Why, it’s almost liberal. Except that “middle America” is always a way of saying white America and the ethnicity of the men and women whose plight is of utmost concern to the speaker, his subject, and his actual audience is White and that their plight is that they have to live in country where there are people of other ethnicities and background and the subject, the person with that passion for the plight of those selfish and self pitying whites who don’t want to share the country with any of those people of other ethnicities and backgrounds is one of the chief architects of the travel ban targeting people of a specific ethnicity and background which is most definitely not White and “Middle American.”
I’m not a moral philosopher but I’m happy to play one on social media, and I see two types of evil actors featured in this Atlantic profile of the White House’s new star liar, Our Mr. President Trump’s Senior Advisor Stephen Miller.
Ann Coulter is the first type. Miller himself is the second.
For purposes of discussion---that is, in my opinion conveniently adopted for the moment---let’s say that evil is consciously doing harm and hurting others with the purpose of doing harm and hurting others.
I’m pretty sure Coulter knows she’s evil or at least that she makes her living hurting and doing harm to others and that that isn’t the noblest way to earn a buck. But she doesn’t care because she loves the money and attention it brings her.
Coulter seems irrelevant now. Don’t know what she’s doing in the article. She takes the reporter’s phone calls, I guess. Hard to remember she ever mattered. As a star of the Right Wing Noise Machine of the now almost forgotten Bush years, she contributed enthusiastically to the closing of the Republican mind, poisoning her fans’ thinking, turning them against their fellow Americans, feeding their paranoia, gleefully encouraging their suspicion and hostility towards not simply the government but towards government and undermining their confidence in their ability to govern themselves. Her theme, the Right Wing Media’s theme as they delivered the message of the rich bastards they shill for, was and is: “Everything that’s wrong in your life is their fault. They can’t be trusted. So just leave it to us to take care of you by taking care of them!” She never had real, direct, practical political influence, which was fine with her, because that meant no responsibility, no consequences. She just did what she did for the money and celebrity and the fun of it. She could say whatever she liked---”joke” about putting rat poison in the food of a Justice of the Supreme Court, for instance---and then sit back and rub her hands and laugh as her agents fielded requests for more TV appearances and negotiated another lucrative book deal.
Miller is Kylo Ren.
Like the whiny, self-pitying Darth Vader cultist of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he’s a villain who believes perversely that evil is good and good is evil, that deliberately hurting and harming others is the mark of heroes and angels. Presumably raised to know better, he decided early in life that the way to do good was by causing discord, insulting and offending people who’d done him no great wrong except in not accepting his own high opinion of himself as the correct opinion to have of him, and infecting others with his anger, hate, personal sense of grievance, and belief in the need for violent redress if not at the moment, then as the inevitable, just, and deserved option. He entered high school seemingly determined to make people dislike him and continued in his determination through college and probably on up to the present day.
Of course, my calling Kylo Ren doesn’t mean I think there’s a father or father-figure he’d like to murder symbolically or in actuality any more than calling someone a Hamlet means he’s out to revenge his father’s foul and most unnatural murder and wants to sleep with his mother. It’s worth noting, however, that Miller’s parents are liberal Democrats. He grew up in Santa Monica, California, one of the bluest cities in one of the bluest of blue states. He’s Jewish, which is neither here nor there, except that in becoming a white nationalist he doesn’t appear to have adopted any self-loathing nor does it appear he found his way to his extreme neoconservatism through the usual Right Winger over-identification with Israel. By his own account it was gun nuttery that turned him to the hard right when he read the book Guns, Crime, and Freedom by NRA chairman Wayne LaPierre. It looks like he scared witless by 9/11, like so many conservatives, but in 2001, he was sixteen, and according to a childhood friend he turned himself into a bigot a couple of years before that. When he was fourteen he told the friend they couldn’t be friends anymore because the friend was Latino.
There’s no evil grandfather-figure he worships, either, not as far as I can see. No doubt he shares with most Republican politicians their simplistic veneration for Ronald Reagan. Like Right Wing Evangelicals who worship Jesus without understanding or caring what he actually said and did, Republicans genuflect at the shrine of St Ronnie without thinking about Reagan the man, so they don’t comprehend the nastiness and destructiveness of his politics or the decent qualities and pragmatic intelligence that sometimes mitigated the nastiness and destruction. It’s a matter of faith with them that Reagan brought the Soviet Union to its knees. They never let it cross their minds that he brought about an abrupt end to the Cold War not simply by saying “Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall” but by believing he would do it. Reagan had more faith in the United States, democracy, capitalism, and people than his self-professed apostles and disciples seem to have.
I haven’t read anything that gives a good clue to what turned Miller into such a precocious bigot, nihilist, and hater. There’s not a lot to read about him. He’s only thirty-one and has just begun to develop the kind of national reputation that attracts journalists to want to tell your life story. And, of course, at the moment his life as far political journalists, pundits, late night comedians, and the general public cares began Sunday with his spectacularly appalling appearance on Face the Nation defending the travel ban, lying about voter fraud, and claiming dictatorial powers for President Trump. Whatever the actual cause, it’s easy to imagine that it was some real or perceived blow to his developing sense of self-importance. Either some Latino kid bullied him, or more likely, outshone him in class, on the playground, or in front of a girl he wanted to impress.
Strikes me as a pretty good summation of Kylo Ren. And I can imagine Miller throwing a Kylo-esque temper tantrum and taking his lightsaber to his office walls after he realizes he’d become a national joke after Sunday’s fib-fest and the popular kids are still making fun of him and no girls will go out with him. And I can further imagine him taking solace in brooding before some symbolic or even literal shrine to his own vanity megalomania, the way Kylo Ren assuages his hurt feelings and bruised ego in conversations with what is essentially the skull of Darth Vader.
But here’s the thing the once upon a time Ben Solo doesn’t consider about Vader…
You probably caught on right away that this post was really going to be more about Star Wars and not so much about politics and I’m using Miller as an excuse to indulge my inner geek.
Ben---Kylo---doesn’t realize that Darth Vader is really Anakin Skywalker.
It’s Anakin Luke saves and redeems, and Anakin deserves salvation and redemption. He was a true hero of what he and all the other Jedi thought was a Republic. He was seduced to the Dark Side by Palpatine’s playing upon his noblest qualities, his love for Padme chief of all. And he was betrayed by the Jedi, in a way---they neglected him, leaving him to be raised by Obi-Wan who was too young to have an apprentice, and, in fact, still in a significant way an apprentice himself, learning not from a master anymore but from experience. And his being young is important to the story, not only in his lacking experience and the maturity and wisdom that comes with it, but in his wanting the experience---that is in being eager for adventures on his own and for adventure’s sake. In my fanfic universe, Obi-wan is a master at coming up with excuses to leave Anakin behind while he goes off to have fun being the Jedi’s top secret agent, James Bond with a lightsaber instead of a clumsy, random, and uncivilized Walther PPK. When he’s in that bar on Coruscant, hunting the shape-shifting assassin Zam Wessell, I imagine the drink he orders is that long ago and far away galaxy’s version of a vodka martini, shaken not stirred. But when he comes home after his adventures, he overcompensates for neglecting Anakin’s training by being hyper-critical, demanding, restrictive, and, frankly, hypocritical---”Do what I say, Anakin, not what I do.”
Obi-wan admits he’s failed Anakin and feels guilty enough about it that he lies to Luke about it twenty odd years later. My suspicion---I should say my hope---is that we find out in Episode VII that Luke didn’t fail Ben Solo. Ben failed all on his own. He wasn’t seduced by the Dark Side but by his own vanity. Naturally, he would see it as Luke’s having betrayed him, but it’s Lucifer’s sense of betrayal. He’s outraged at not being seen and celebrated as the favorite angel. His comeuppance ought to be that he’s forced to accept a final blow to his vanity: that he doesn’t matter to Snoke except as a tool. He’s a minor villain and a fool.
I don’t expect that’s what fate has in store for Miller. Life rarely works out that way. But who knows? There’s a hint in the Atlantic story that Miller’s making himself unpopular around the White House and Reince Priebus is not a fan. Does that make Priebus Snoke? Depends on who and what Snoke turns out to be. Point is, the implication is that around the White House Miller is viewed as useful but not inexpendable and not, despite his title, a leader. In fact, since college he’s made a career out of being useful and attaching himself to people who get things done rather than getting things done himself. He’s a minion and minions tend to end their careers kicked to the curb and thrown under buses.
Kylo Ren, as far as we know and I hope we’ll ever know----I like it that he’s not in any way in the same league as the grandfather he tries so hard to identify with---was never a hero in his own right. His turn to the Dark Side wasn’t a hero’s tragic fall but an adolescent’s rebellion to spite his parents and his uncle. Ben Solo became Kylo Ren in a snit. He was born with tremendous talent and ability, not to mention advantages and privileges, but he put it all to use to aggrandize himself.
The Atlantic article quotes Ann Coulter marveling at Miller’s tremendous talent and ability, talent ability Miller has put to use helping bigots like Jeff Sessions and now Donald Trump make life easier and more comfortable for a select cohort of white Americans and harder and grimmer for just about everybody else but especially for people who aren’t white and don’t fit the Right’s definition of Americans.
“Someone with Miller’s gargantuan IQ could have been making millions on Wall Street, hundreds of thousands as a lawyer—but he’s been working in the Senate because he loves this country and the people who live here,” Coulter wrote in an email.
Leaving aside how Miller and his bosses show their love for the country by trying to throw people out of it and not letting any more in, Coulter doesn’t mention that there are other things someone with a gargantuan IQ could be doing. He could be a doctor, or a scientist, or a teacher. He could be a lawyer who helps poor people who are in trouble rather than one who helps rich people become richer. He could be a lawyer working for the ACLU to rescue people from the depredations of the travel ban.
In fact, I think there’s an example of someone who actually did become a lawyer and was recruited by Wall Street where he could have made millions of dollars but decided to put his talent and ability to use helping people build their community and give themselves and their children opportunities to improve their neighborhoods, their schools, their city, and their lives. People used to compare him to a Star Trek hero rather than a Star Wars villain, I think.
Whatever became of him?
More about Miller than you probably want to read but should read anyway:
Rosie Gray's profile at the Atlantic, How Stephen Miller's Rise Explains the Trump White House.
At univision: How White House advisor Stephen Miller went from pestering Hispanic students to designing Trump's immigration policy by Fernando Peinado.
How a liberal Santa Monica high school produced a top Trump advisor and speechwriter by Lisa Mascaro at the Los Angeles Times.
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