Stephen Miller is President Trump’s senior adviser for policy and has been my friend since he was a student at Santa Monica High School in 2001, taking on his teachers and administrators for failing to respect country and flag in the wake of 9/11.
Steve was raised in a liberal Democratic California household and his second thoughts politically constitute one of the bonds of our friendship, which can serve to illuminate the unique character of this White House – widely misunderstood on the left and right – whose president and chief strategist, Steve Bannon, followed similar paths.
In the fourth year of the Obama era, I was the subject of a leftwing profile in Tabletmag.com titled, “David Horowitz Is Homeless.” It was an early example of what would now be called a “fake news” story, portraying me as a hapless figure suspended between the warring camps of left and right, unable to find a place in either. The false narrative was easy to expose. Through the David Horowitz Freedom Center my efforts were financially supported by over a hundred thousand conservative donors while the Restoration Weekend I hosted featured dozens of prominent conservative figures including now Vice President Mike Pence and soon to be Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Like all effective hit pieces, the Tablet story contained a kernel of truth. While conservatives and Republicans were generally supportive of me and my work, they also took a noticeable distance from the confrontational stances and actions that became my political signature.
In 2002, for example, I launched a campaign to end the leftist stranglehold on the curricula of our major liberal arts schools. I organized chapters of “Students for Academic Freedom” on college campuses across the country, and called for an Academic Bill of Rights that would require professors to present students with two sides of controversial issues in a fair-minded manner. This modest proposal was viciously condemned by the academic left, and in the heat of the battle that ensued, I found myself pretty much alone. Republicans and conservatives failed for the most part to rally around the proposal and mainly avoided association with the effort. After seven years of futility and isolation, I was forced to acknowledge that I had failed.
I had come into the political right vowing to be as aggressive in defense of America as we leftists had been in attacking her. What struck me at the outset was the absence of a war mentality among my new political friends – a mentality I knew as second nature for the left. Democrats were relentlessly on the attack, framing moral indictments of their political adversaries and denouncing them as oppressors of the weak and vulnerable.
By contrast, Republicans addressed their adversaries in the language of accountants complaining about tax-burdens and budget overages. I noticed, too, how thoroughly intimidated Republicans were by the left’s moral attacks; they seemed temperamentally incapable of returning fire with fire. While Democrats routinely referred to them as racists, sexists and homophobes, conservatives responded by calling their assailants “liberals.”
Unassimilated as I felt to this political environment, I was never entirely alone. Like-minded conservatives were attracted to my work, especially younger conservatives who had been schooled by their leftist antagonists in the art of political warfare and were ready to fight back. One of these was 17-year-old Stephen Miller.
When we met in 2001, Steve was engaged in a battle with his high school authorities over their failure to stand up for the country in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, the nation was unusually united in rallying around the flag to defend the homeland, and schools had been directed to have students say the Pledge of Alliance on a daily basis. Santa Monica was one of the most leftwing cities in the nation, and Santa Monica High refused to do so. One teacher even placed an American flag on the floor for his students to walk over and show their disrespect. Steve responded to this outrage with a one-man protest. He went on the Larry Elder Show, on KABC’s primetime hour, to launch a public campaign. I supported his effort with my online site Frontpagemag.com.
Even then I was impressed by how articulate and smart this young man was, and that he pulled no punches, so unusual in the conservative circles I was familiar with. Steve was so effective that he was eventually called on the carpet by the Superintendent of Schools who accused him of being personally responsible for the failure of the Santa Monica School bond issue on the November ballot – the first time that had happened in Santa Monica’s history.
Steve formed a chapter of our Students for Academic Freedom at Santa Monica High, and invited me to come to campus to speak. The event was initially blocked by the school administration, which forced Steve to undertake another battle, this time for free speech, a battle he eventually won. Over a hundred students attended my speech which was recorded by a film class. But the leftist faculty in charge of the class, apparently unable to handle its content, destroyed the film without explanation.
When Steve graduated, and informed me that he had been accepted by Duke University, I was relieved. Throughout these battles he had fought I had always wondered how he was going to get the faculty recommendations he needed to be accepted by a first-rate college, given the hostility of his school authorities.
In one of the Platonic Dialogues, Socrates observes that before a person can be judged to be courageous one has to ascertain whether the person was aware of the risks and possible consequences of his actions. Steve was an extraordinarily bright and ambitious young man with a promising future, and well aware of the obstacles he might be creating for himself. He went ahead with his protests anyway because he cared about his country more.
University campuses are so dominated by a potentially violent political left that I am unable to visit them without bodyguards and a campus security presence. Without such protection, I could never get through a speech and never be sure of emerging from the event unscathed. This is not personal to me, but is true of all conservatives targeted by the left, many of whom like me have been physically attacked. When I do speak, I am always mindful to point out, however, that the vicious verbal attacks directed at me are really intended to intimidate my student hosts, who are regularly called racists and Islamophobes for inviting me and have to live with these stigmas long after I am gone. These slanders are an injustice to me but an even greater one to the students. Unfortunately, in the present political climate there is no campus authority – faculty or administrative – who will defend conservative students and their right to have their own opinions.
When Steve arrived at Duke he formed another chapter of Students for Academic Freedom and again invited me to speak on his campus. I had just published a book called The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America which was already notorious in academia. It was about the political abuse of the classroom by tenured radicals, and its appearance had created a firestorm in the academic world. Spokesmen for the American Association of University Professors denounced me as a McCarthyite witch-hunter and other academic leftists slandered me (improbably) as a Maoist and a Torquemada. The American Federation of Teachers created an entire website devoted to attacking me and distorting what I had said.
In the eyes of the academic community, I was public enemy number one. None of this daunted Steve. The event he singlehandedly organized was attended by 600 students and filmed by C-Span. Three professors organized a vocal demonstration inside the auditorium. Their original plan was to have their female students strip to the waist as part of the protest but the students declined.
Once again I was impressed by the young man’s fortitude in facing down his professors, and also by his organizational skills in putting together such a large event under difficult circumstances. My appearance was only one of many actions that Steve took at Duke to oppose its one-party classrooms and the thinly veiled prejudice of Duke faculty members — in full display during the public witch-hunt of the Duke Lacrosse players, which 80 of them openly supported. By the time he graduated Steve was the most well-known student leader and conservative on Duke’s politically correct and politically hostile campus, and looking for bigger horizons to conquer.
Steve’s ambitions were political, and when he graduated he went to Washington to pursue them. I provided him with recommendations first for jobs he took with Representatives Michele Bachmann and John Shadegg, and then with Senator Jeff Sessions a man whom I had known and admired as one of the most decent human beings in the Senate and one of its handful of stand-up conservatives. During the years that Steve served Sessions, as his right hand, my political passion was also for the minority and poor inhabitants of America’s inner cities and what I perceived as their oppression by the Democrats’ fifty to a hundred-year monopoly control.
As with my academic campaign, for reasons I tried hard to understand, Republicans were deaf to the plight of these victims of Democrat policies. The entire situation was summed up for me in a front-page story that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in January 2000. The article reported that Los Angeles had dropped a plan to end “social promotions” — the practice of passing students to the next level when they had learned nothing — because to do so would mean holding back 350,000 children – half the public school population, which is mainly Hispanic.
After reading this, I called Tom Campbell, who was running for the Senate as a Republican, and for whom I had hosted a fund-raiser. I said to him, “Tom, if you want to be senator, hold a press conference, call on President Bush to declare Los Angeles a social disaster area and demand that FEMA provide the funds to get these kids to schools private or otherwise that will teach them. His reply? “I don’t believe in federal aid to education.”
I bring up this incident because it once again it summarizes my frustration with Republicans over many years trying to direct their attention to such problems and trying to prod them into aggressive political actions. Once again, it showed me that as a former radical I was constitutionally different from most Republicans. But there were important exceptions and Senator Jeff Sessions and his top aide, Steve Miller, were two of them.
Steve was in effect my conduit to Sessions, and soon I began to see in Sessions’ speeches and website posts the concerns I had expressed about the inner city and its forgotten victims, and also the facts that I had assembled and the outrage I had expressed. I knew this was Steve’s work, and that it reflected the fact that both Sessions and he shared these concerns in a way that was rare on the political right – not because Republicans were racists, but because they had what they felt were more pressing and practical agendas, and because Democrats had such a tight lock on the voters of those districts that Republicans were content to concede them in advance. And, of course, part of this was because they didn’t have a fire in their bellies over the injustice that this shame of America’s inner cities represented. But Steve Miller did.
When Steve joined Trump early on in the campaign and Sessions’ endorsement soon followed and my friend Steve Bannon, who was like-minded on these matters, became his chief strategist, I realized a new day was dawning in Republican politics and therefore in American politics too. Trump was focused on making inroads with inner city voters and the victims of Democrat policies.
In light of this, I sent a memo to Bannon and Miller resurrecting a plan I had drawn up for George W. Bush during the 2000 campaign, which had been politely rejected by his domestic policy chief Josh Bolten when I presented it to him. My plan was for a voucher program, designed to be so big the media couldn’t ignore it and to provide such significant scholarships (equivalent to the tuitions taxpayers were investing in the failed public schools) that when inner city parents became aware of them, it would blow up the Democratic base. The Bush team’s rejection of this voucher plan was just another case of the Republican fecklessness to which I had grown accustomed.
Yet while Bush’s team rejected the plan to help the inner-city children, Trump’s team incorporated it into their campaign platform. Trump’s plan would allocate $130 billion in vouchers for inner city children with a tuition of $12,000 for each child, which was equivalent to the amount paid by taxpayers to public schools where 40% of the students never graduated and 40% of those who did graduate were functionally illiterate.
When I watch Steve’s rapid fire responses now, as he is interviewed before the cameras, and relish his articulation of complex policies and mastery of the arguments that support them, I am still impressed, even though I saw this coming many years past.
But what I continue to marvel at is the way he continues to move forward despite the incoming fire, the way he doesn’t bend or falter before the onslaught of mean-spirited and ignorant attacks on his character and motives. In this he is like Bannon and their boss Trump, and unlike the Republicans we have known. These are the new conservatives who are changing the face of the Republican Party, and America too. For me it is all captured in a single image.
Over the years people would refer to my Freedom Center as a “think tank” and I would correct them, “No, it’s a battle tank,” because that is what I felt was missing most in the conservative cause — troops ready and willing to fight fire with fire. The Trump administration may be only a few weeks old, but it is already clear that the new White House is a battle tank. I am as proud as could be that my friend Steve Miller is one of its generals, and I no longer feel in any way homeless.