After torch-bearing white nationalists marched in Charlottesville last month and a peaceful counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was murdered by a neo-Nazi, the leaders of the black, Hispanic, Asian and progressive caucuses in Congress sent a letter to President Trump. They asked that he fire White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, deputy assistant to the president Sebastian Gorka and senior policy adviser Stephen Miller.
Americans deserve to know that white nationalists, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis are not in a position to influence U.S. policy.
It's hard to believe it somehow became necessary to write such a thing to the president of the United States about his high-level White House advisers, but it did. All three of those men have affiliations with or connections to white supremacists, "alt-right" groups and neofascist organizations. In the wake of those horrifying events in Charlottesville, and the president's insistence that the neo-Nazi marchers included "very fine people" and that anti-fascist protesters had created many of the problems, it seemed important to go on the record with this request.
As it happens, Bannon was exiled from the White House shortly afterward and Gorka followed a couple of weeks later. The press reported that they were both let go as part of a staff reorganization by John Kelly, the retired general who had come in to replace the hapless Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff and put an end to the chaos that had characterized the Trump administration from the beginning. For their part, Bannon and Gorka insisted that they had made the decision to leave because they believed they could better serve Trump from the outside. Let's just say that didn't sound convincing.
Most political observers, even many conservatives, were relieved. Gorka was an embarrassment, a man who literally wore medals associated with Nazi collaborators to the inauguration. The Daily Beast reported this week that he had landed a new job working for a pro-Trump super PAC called the MAGA Coalition, which is best known for its promotion of conspiracy theories, notably "Pizzagate," the imaginary child-rape ring allegedly run by Hillary Clinton out of a Washington pizza parlor. Gorka told Laura Ingraham on her radio show on Tuesday that the group plans to run primaries against "fake conservatives."
We know where Steve Bannon went. He's back at Breitbart making Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell miserable and plotting the apocalypse. Most observers saw Bannon as the most sinister presence in the White House, a white nationalist Rasputin with special access to Donald Trump's id. It was assumed that getting rid of Bannon meant that Kelly had removed the main influence that stoked Trump's darker impulses.
It turns out that Stephen Miller, the remaining member of the "alt-right" trio those House members demanded be fired, was the savviest political player among them. Rather than jockey for power with the president's powerful son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as Bannon did, Miller was smart enough to see that family would be the last people Trump would abandon. So he moved into Kushner's orbit.
After all the palace intrigue of the first eight months of Trump's administration, Miller is the one left standing. Judging from the president's "global carnage" speech this week to the United Nations -- an obvious sequel to the "American carnage" inaugural address -- Miller remains a highly influential adviser and a pernicious influence on our government.
Miller is a true white nationalist, going all the way back to his teenage years at Santa Monica High School, where he was known for his anti-Latino views. In college at Duke University he befriended Richard Spencer, future co-founder of the "alt-right" and the man who led a meeting of fellow fascists in a "Heil Trump" chant shortly after the election. Miller worked for the most anti-immigrant senator of the modern era, current Attorney General Jeff Sessions, before joining the Trump campaign and the administration, where his first assignment was to put together the new president's first botched Muslim ban.
Miller hasn't had his face on the cover of Time and nobody is parodying him (yet) on "Saturday Night Live," so Trump hasn't had reason to be jealous. His rare public performances have been the kind that the boss appreciates: combative, rude and extremely loyal to the president. Back in February he was dispatched to defend the president's assertion that fraudulent voters had stolen the popular vote, and he delivered an epic performance on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos:
George, it is a fact, and you will not deny it, that there are massive numbers of non-citizens in this country who are registered to vote. That is a scandal, we should stop the presses and as a country we should be aghast about the fact that you have people that have no right to vote in this country registered to vote canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country. That’s the story we should be talking about and I am prepared to go on any show, anywhere, anytime and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct 100 percent.
Trump tweeted later that day:
Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 12, 2017
More recently, Miller took over the podium in the White House briefing room to defend the president's immigration policy. Most people thought his performance was creepy, but it likely made the president happy because Miller got into a spat with CNN's Jim Acosta, the reporter Trump just calls "fake news" and whose questions he refuses to take.
Miller's even caught up in the Russia investigation now, having been revealed to have helped Trump draft a scorching version of his letter firing FBI Director James Comey, which was rejected by White House counsel Don McGahn as inappropriate. Considering Miller's temperament, combined with Trump's, one can only imagine what it must have said.
Miller isn't just giving Trump the words to express his dystopian vision, he is exerting a toxic influence on policy. The New York Times reported that the White House rejected a study prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services that found that refugees brought in $63 billion more in revenue than they cost the government over the past decade. According to the Times, Miller “personally intervened in the discussions on the refugee cap to ensure that only the costs — not any fiscal benefit — of the program were considered.” Evidently, taxes paid by refugees don't count.
Stephen Miller is proving much more adept at seeing into Trump's psyche and stroking his racist id than Steve Bannon ever was. He's a smarter political player, he takes on the press, he's more focused on the details. He's getting the job done.