When I saw Stephen Miller’s dead-eyed national TV debut a couple of Sundays ago, I shivered. Defending the Republican president’s Muslim ban, he looked like a balding seven-year-old—a soulless balding seven-year-old—reciting lines from a particularly heartless school play. Or as my friend the anonymous versifier behind the new blog TrumPoetry put it:
The henchman whose name is Steve Miller
Has the eyes of a serial killer
One’s inner self dies
After so many lies
And one’s heart has been left in the chiller.
I’ll have more about TrumPoetry in a few days. But today I want to talk about Miller. Because he’s not just a henchman with the eyes of a serial killer; The New York Times tells us he’s also—and, Reader, you may picture me gagging as I write this—a speechwriter. Currently Twitler’s speechwriter.
Stephen Miller & the speechwriter’s lot
It won’t surprise you to hear I am in violent disagreement with every word Miller writes, including (to repurpose Mary McCarthy’s comment about Lillian Hellman) and and the. But I’m not here to discuss the substance of his speeches. Instead, I want to highlight some things The New York Times said about his process.
Before joining the campaign, Miller wrote speeches for his boss Jeff Sessions. Born and raised in Alabama, and with an advanced educational degree—a J.D. from the University of Alabama—the lawyer Sessions has followed a very different path than the Republican president he and his erstwhile speechwriter now serve. Twitler doesn’t hold any advanced degrees, just a B.S. from Wharton’s undergraduate program. Sessions has that soothing Alabama drawl and a successful lawyer’s command of the English language; Twitler has…well, you know.
Imagine trying to write for both men. Impossible! You’d need to be part-impressionist, part-psychic. And that’s pretty much the job description for a good speechwriter. The Times tells us:
It is sometimes hard to tell Mr. Trump’s voice from that of Mr. Miller, who suppressed his own orotund speech to capture the president’s more visceral, off-the-cuff style.
This is Speechwriting 101, and Miller seems to have mastered it. The Times report continues, with a description that will seem all too familiar to my speechwriting colleagues:
Not that he has had much choice: As one of three or four staff members to fly around with Mr. Trump during the last few months of the campaign, Mr. Miller was summoned to speechwriting tasks by a bark of “Ready!” from Mr. Trump, who insisted on dictating practically every word — and laced into staff members who changed a word or inserted an overly complex policy point.
Here I feel almost sorry for the putz. I mean, if you’re going to hire someone who knows how to write a speech—let him write a speech. Don’t turn him into a human Dictaphone. Especially if your own command of the complexities of language and thought is…well, you know. It’s like if Pope Julius II had wandered into the Sistine Chapel and told Michelangelo just to lay down a nice coat of white. Eggshell finish, for easy cleaning.
Still, given the worldview articulated in Twitler’s speeches, perhaps we’re all better off not having them written in the most stirring and memorable way possible. The guy is probably happier with a nice coat of white, anyway. Here’s hoping Stephen Miller gets the job he deserves.