Toward a politics of pure opposition with Stephen Miller

Trump policy advisor and former Jeff Sessions aide Stephen Miller

Now that Donald Trump has issued an executive order banning refugees and visitors from seven Muslim countries, we might take a moment to get to know the man who wrote it, Stephen Miller. Miller is a 31 year-old former aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions who spent the last year warming up crowds for Trump on the campaign trail. In that capacity, he posited a vast left-wing conspiracy that centered on his candidate. For example:

That’s what this all comes down to: Everybody who stands against Donald Trump are the people who have been running the country into the ground, who have been controlling the levers of power. They’re the people who are responsible for our open borders, for our shrinking middle class, for our terrible trade deals. Everything that is wrong with this country today, the people who are opposed to Donald Trump are responsible for!

That’s from Julia Ioffe’s fascinating profile of Miller in Politico, which ran in June and advances the notion that he built his career on such accusations. As a student at Santa Monica High School after 9/11, he complained that students were not saying the Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis. When administrators failed to accede to his demands, he called into conservative talk radio host Larry Elder to complain that they were anti-American. As a college student, he invited the ultra-conservative David Horowitz to speak at Duke, then claimed Horowitz had been banned by the university even though he hadn’t. In introducing the speaker, Miller read a list of university departments that had declined to contribute funding to the event. He seems to be working toward a pure politics: one animated not by particular issues but by a totalizing sense of conflict with the other side.

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“The president is signing the order we’re discussing”

President Donald Trump signs an executive order, being somehow president.

On Friday, Donald Trump issued an executive order that blocks refugees from entering the United States for the next 120 days, refuses refugees from Syria indefinitely, and bars visitors of any kind from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The Department of Homeland Security initially said the travel ban would apply even to legal permanent residents—so-called “green card” holders—from those countries, but it has since announced exceptions on a case-by-case basis. Maybe that had something to do with the lawsuits. The New York Times reports that multiple federal courts have enjoined customs and immigration officials from enforcing the ban, but they seem to be doing it anyway—paving the way for a constitutional crisis between the executive and judicial branches. It’s almost as if Trump and his team didn’t fully grasp the process by which such policies are made. Or maybe they just don’t like it. Another Times report on how the travel ban came about gives us this amazing anecdote:

Gen. John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security, had dialed in from a Coast Guard plane as he headed back to Washington from Miami. Along with other top officials, he needed guidance from the White House, which had not asked his department for a legal review of the order.

Halfway into the briefing, someone on the call looked up at a television in his office. “The president is signing the executive order that we’re discussing,” the official said, stunned.

The president signed a border security order on TV before he talked it through with the head of the DHS. It’s every barstool pundit’s fantasy of personal power come to life. It also might be a threat to democracy.

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