Immigration

Why Stephen Miller Comes Off as a D*ck

Trump's favorite sycophant is like all the most unlikable know-it-alls you've ever met all rolled up into one.

Photo Credit: YouTube / NBC

Stephen Miller, the second most loathsome person in the White House, has two jobs. The first is to push Trump’s xenophobic anti-immigrant policies via dog whistles loud enough that even tone-deaf white nationalists can hear. The second is to keep selling Trump as a genius until we forget he’s an idiot who thinks climate change is a fake but his Twitter followers are real

You may recognize Miller from rarely televised press briefings and Fox News appearances based on a few standout features. There’s his soulless reptilian eyes. His pouty lips, smirking and smugging through life. And that voice which instantly recalls every super unlikable, pompous, joyless, self-important authority-on-everything you’ve ever met. Or as Katie McDonough of Fusion more succinctly put it, “he has the voice of someone who is a dick.”

For example, here is a clip of Miller sounding like he was hired specifically to do a universally recognizable impersonation of dick. His voice hits peak dick right around 3:50, when he starts faking a mix of outrage and self-righteousness:

Then there’s now classic Miller from back in February, when he first made an impression as a Trump TV mouthpiece. Notice how he raises his voice just so every time he thinks his lies about judicial powers are particularly impressive. This is what McDonough might refer to as his “dickish bluster.” 

Like many of us, McDonough noticed a certain familiarity in Miller’s tone. (“Watching Miller, a stranger, I was struck by the familiarity of his dick voice,” she writes. “I know this dick, I thought.”) In an effort to understand why Miller sounds uncannily like so many other arrogant adult dicks, McDonough called up John West, a speech coach at New York Speech Coaching. He had a few thoughts on the universal dickishness of Miller’s speaking voice.

“Stephen Miller likes to use a lower register,” West indicates. “So, number one, the pitch he’s going for is at the bottom, even a little bit below, where he can comfortably speak. He’s also clenching his tongue a little bit while he speaks. This is a common, however unconscious, tactic by men to sound more masculine and authoritative. It’s just to suggest that extra bit of, Here’s what I have to say and welcome to it.”

West suggests that Miller’s cadence—which is more a sort of superior-sounding monotone—is another turn-off. He explains why Miller brings to mind the dude you had classes with in high school or college who everyone mostly wished would stop talking. Not the cool, interesting nerd, who was an inventive misfit waiting to blossom, but more like the unsympathetic know-it-all who repelled everyone with his smugness, arrogance and almost frightening dearth of charm.

“In the case of this particular gentleman, we have a situation where large swaths will feel that this is not a guy I would enjoy spending time with,” West says, making the understatement of the century. “It feels like he’s talking down to me, it feels like he’s being overly pedantic, and indeed, condescending. What he does though is, speaking of that guy in college we all rolled our eyes at, when you don’t have perhaps content on your side—without being overtly political here—what one has to do then is compensate for that. And that’s a keyword I’d like to highlight with you: What we don’t like about that, if we can remove ourselves from the political content for a moment, is generally the fact that it seems like this person is trying to compensate. We see a person who is trying too hard. That’s not an attractive quality, when we see someone pushing and trying too hard.”

In other words, “asshole voice”—another term McDonough helpfully offers—is not partisan. Though in this case, keep in mind that Miller spent his teen years harassing Latinos, African Americans and Asians, wrote columns while he was a student at Duke that were so racist his colleagues in Jeff Sessions' Senate office were stunned, and helped Steve Bannon write the unconstitutional Muslim ban. All of which makes him seem not just deeply unlikable, but ideologically dangerous and a threat to democracy. Also, he cuts people off a lot, as West notes.

“The...thing an asshole does is interrupt, in general. Any time we interrupt, we are already scoring asshole points. The best thing we can do to try to mitigate is to do it respectfully and appropriately. Then, the flatlining, or monotonous speech, which is closer to what Miller does.”

“The more balanced we are, the less of an asshole we are."

[h/t Fusion]

Kali Holloway is a senior writing fellow and the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute.