He has never been elected to or been legislatively confirmed to public office.
His media interviews and interactions can easily be described as high-decibel affairs.
He seems to have embraced every possible polarizing third-rail issue in politics (e.g. travel ban, family separations, immigration, etc.) and enjoyably glides on them with no aversion to what anyone, even his family, thinks, except for his boss.
And if you believe any of the numerous press reports and White House leaks, he had a big hand in the recent departure of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and several others from the Trump administration.
All of these descriptions detail President Trump’s Senior Advisor Stephen Miller, and it probably goes without saying that he has become the most powerful person in today’s homeland security environment.
In writing this piece I have to confess that I don’t know Stephen Miller, nor have I ever met him. In fact, my only exposure to him has been through media articles and appearances, which I’ve often found jaw-dropping due to his acerbic responses. It’s safe to say his politics, media style and demeanor do not match mine.
What makes Stephen Miller so interesting – as well as unnerving – is how disruptive he has become to the entire homeland security apparatus. Literally from Day One of the Trump administration, Miller has played a key role in shaping policy development, operations, personnel decisions and media pronouncements across DHS. And in that same period of time he has become the arching lightning rod for the entire Trump tenure with homeland security.
But it seems for each and every action with which Miller has been involved, he’s either been the guy safely standing on the White House lawn or behind the press room lectern before news cameras playing to “the boss” and “the base,” while sending others – Senate-confirmed appointees and career government executives – to face the hurling rocks, slings and arrows of congressional hearings and public gatherings for his directives.
The only places where Miller has been challenged on anything have been those few (now infamous) media encounters where voices get raised, hands go flying and the black T-shirted security team from The Jerry Springer Show are probably preparing themselves to take the sound stage and separate everyone to their respective corners. Those media challenges, which are often derided as “fake news” by the president and his political base, are hardly the most substantive of exchanges but, unfortunately, they’re all we’re given.
Given his appointment and proximity to the president, Miller is not required or obligated to testify before Congress or having to endure the same hellfire gauntlet of barbed questioning that former Secretary Nielsen and other DHS principals have had to endure. Each of those persons were often the carriers of his water (and the president’s), which was entirely their choice. But true accountability only happens when you have to stand up and face the music of your fans and your critics.
It calls to mind that famous quote by President Teddy Roosevelt about “the man in the arena.”: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs; who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
By this measure, I have to say, Mr. Miller is playing it perpetually safe by spending all his time in the “owner’s box” of today’s public arena, rather than step onto the real rough-and-tumble playing field where he’s ordered so many others to go in his place. It’s always safer to send someone else to endure the hits, blocks and blows for your decisions, than to be front-and-center on the arena field and incur the fury (good and bad) that you’ve generated.
The truth is Miller’s policymaking prowess comes with no real-world experience of ever patrolling a border, caring for or engaging refugees looking for a better life, managing any type of humanitarian crisis, securing supply chains to keep commerce and trade going, forging relationships that bring security and sanity to issues, or understanding the legal and operational aspects of everything associated with immigration, border security, travel, trade and so forth. Miller operates in a self-created black-and-white world of absolutes, never seeing the shades of nuanced gray that are the real world where he has never operated. But that’s the view from the owner’s box and not the arena floor, where it’s tougher to survive.
In a city full of armchair quarterbacks, with a majority who have never played the game, Miller’s unaccountability and play-it-safe role of policymaking may fit in with some of the cheering crowd, but it will never have the respect that comes from going into the arena of public debate like others he has sent on his behalf. They at least had the courage to stand up before others and endure the shots that were undoubtedly meant for him. While I may have disagreed with those persons and some of the policies they were carrying forward, they at least had the courage to enter the arena, which is more courage than Mr. Miller has shown.
I honestly would expect more from the most powerful person in homeland security, but you’d have to step foot into the real arena first.
The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email HSTodayMag@gtscoalition.com. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.