Stephen Miller is reportedly a college buddy of neo-Nazi punching bag Richard Spencer. He’s also Donald Trump’s senior adviser, and was recently drafted as a new White House spokesperson. For his new role, Miller took a tour of the Sunday morning news shows, each appearance showing off an ability to lie matched only by the other members of the Trump team. If you caught any of those appearances, you may have noticed a few Miller trademark gestures. Empty, reptilian eyes scanning left to right over cue cards. A pouty mouth delivering each insane untruth. And a voice that sounds like every hyper-unlikable, pompous, joyless, self-important authority-on-everything you’ve ever met. Or as Katie McDonough of Fusion puts it, “he has the voice of someone who is a dick.”
If you haven’t had a chance to hear Miller speak—raising his voice just so every time he thinks his lies about judicial powers are particularly impressive—check out the video below. Notice what McDonough might refer to as his “dickish bluster.”
Like many of us, McDonough noticed a certain familiarity in Miller’s tone. (“Watching Miller, a stranger, I was struck by the familiarity of his dick voice,” she writes. “I know this dick, I thought.”) In an effort to understand why Miller sounds uncannily like so many other arrogant adult dicks, McDonough called up John West, a speech coach at New York Speech Coaching. He had a few thoughts on the universal dickishness of Miller’s speaking voice.
“Stephen Miller likes to use a lower register,” West indicates. “So, number one, the pitch he’s going for is at the bottom, even a little bit below, where he can comfortably speak. He’s also clenching his tongue a little bit while he speaks. This is a common, however unconscious, tactic by men to sound more masculine and authoritative. It’s just to suggest that extra bit of, Here’s what I have to say and welcome to it.”
West suggests that Miller’s cadence—which is more a sort of superior-sounding monotone—is another turn-off. He explains why Miller brings to mind the dude you had classes with in high school or college who everyone mostly wished would stop talking. Not the cool, interesting nerd, who was an inventive misfit waiting to blossom, but more like the unsympathetic know-it-all who repelled everyone with his smugness, arrogance and almost frightening dearth of charm.
“In the case of this particular gentleman, we have a situation where large swaths will feel that this is not a guy I would enjoy spending time with,” West says, making the understatement of the century. “It feels like he’s talking down to me, it feels like he’s being overly pedantic, and indeed, condescending. What he does though is, speaking of that guy in college we all rolled our eyes at, when you don’t have perhaps content on your side—without being overtly political here—what one has to do then is compensate for that. And that’s a keyword I’d like to highlight with you: What we don’t like about that, if we can remove ourselves from the political content for a moment, is generally the fact that it seems like this person is trying to compensate. We see a person who is trying too hard. That’s not an attractive quality, when we see someone pushing and trying too hard.”
In other words, “asshole voice”—another term McDonough helpfully offers—is not partisan. Though in this case, keep in mind that Miller spent his teen years harassing Latinos, African Americans and Asians, wrote columns while he was a student at Duke that were so racist his colleagues in Jeff Sessions' Senate office were stunned, and helped Steve Bannon write the unconstitutional Muslim ban. All of which makes him seem not just deeply unlikable, but ideologically dangerous and a threat to democracy. Also, he cuts people off a lot, as West notes.
“The... thing an asshole does is interrupt, in general. Any time we interrupt, we are already scoring asshole points. The best thing we can do to try to mitigate is to do it respectfully and appropriately. Then, the flatlining, or monotonous speech, which is closer to what Miller does.”
“The more balanced we are, the less of an asshole we are."