Patriot-Provocateurs

Anyone who has taught high school English has had problem students – the smart-ass, the brooding potential psychopath, or the class clown, or the rebel, with or without a cause, but usually without a cause. Anyone who has taught high school English at a prep school – think Dead Poets Society – has had those too, with an extra dimension – a sense of privilege. Those kids think they have a right to be a pain in the ass. The family money gives them that right. There is a ruling class. They’re part of it, although they might not put it that way. They just sense it. They’ll be fine. They can say what they want – and they’ll go through life being a pain in the ass. Who is going to call them out? Those who might call them out don’t really matter. They’re nobody.

Six years of that, a long time ago, was enough. It was time to leave teaching and move to California. There’s very little “old money” out here. There’s very little old anything, actually, but, oddly, there is a sense of privilege. California kids know they’re cool, because they’re in California. Everyone else is stuck in places that don’t matter – with no surfing or skateboards or anything else. Blame the Beach Boys. There’s something in the air. High school kids out here can be a pain in the ass too. They’ll go through life being a pain in the ass.

Some of them end up in government. Santa Monica north of Montana – exclusive and expensive – to Santa Monica High School and then to Duke University and then to this morning on national television – “The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will NOT be questioned!”

Yea, the California kid said that. He was probably the kid in US Government who argued that Jefferson really wanted a theocracy, and he still has an odd concept of the separation of powers:

White House senior policy advisor Stephen Miller said on Sunday that President Donald Trump’s authority to impose an executive order temporarily barring visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the United States is “beyond question.”

“The President’s powers here are beyond question,” Miller said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

He said that the federal appeals court that upheld a stay on the executive order “has a long history of being overturned and overreaching” and that the government is “pursuing every single possible action” to counter it.

And it wasn’t just Fox News:

“A district judge in Seattle cannot make immigration law for the United States, cannot give foreign nationals and foreign countries rights they do not have, and cannot prevent the President of the United States from suspending the admission of refugees from Syria,” Miller said Sunday in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“What the judges did, both at the 9th and at the district level, was to take power for themselves that belonged squarely in the hands of the President of the United States,” he said.

Miller said that there is “no such thing as judicial supremacy.”

“We’ve heard a lot of talk about how all the branches of government are equal,” Miller said. “That’s the point. They are equal. There’s no such thing as judicial supremacy.”

Yes there is – Marbury-Madison settled that in 1803 – the role of the judicial branch is to look at the Constitution and tell the legislative branch that a law they passed breaks the rules, when it does, and to tell the executive branch the same sort of thing, when appropriate. The president has to follow the rules too. The rules are right there in the Constitution, as amended. The three branches of government are equal, but they do three different things – one makes laws, one executes laws, and one makes sure everyone’s playing by the rules.

This is simple stuff. It’s covered in high school. It was probably covered at Santa Monica High, but as Lisa Mascaro explains in the Los Angeles Times, things were strange there:

Too-cool-for-school upper-class students at Santa Monica High scoffed when administrators in 2002 reinstated a daily recitation of the pledge of allegiance.

Most students in the liberal enclave slouched in their chairs and chatted over the morning ritual, which was widely viewed as a throwback to an American patriotism that seemed outdated in the multicultural mash-up of L.A.’s Westside.

Not Stephen Miller. Every day, the student body’s best-known and least-liked conservative activist stood at his desk, put his hand over his heart and declared his love of country.

He was a bit of a patriot-provocateur:

As he was finding his voice at Santa Monica High, Miller bemoaned the school’s Spanish-language announcements, the colorful festivals of minority cultures, and the decline, as he saw it, of a more traditional version of American education.

Yet that robust progressive tradition nurtured Miller’s rise, teaching him how to fight for his beliefs, even if it meant he had to stand alone, in his tennis shorts and polo shirts, as he often did.

That’s an odd image, but it served him well:

After graduating, Miller went on to Duke University and found himself on the far right of the GOP. He landed a job on Capitol Hill with then-Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and later with Sen. Jeff Sessions, the Alabama conservative and next likely attorney general who relied on the young conservative to help him defeat immigration reform in 2013. Miller also came into the orbit of Breitbart News’ Stephen Bannon and eventually Trump’s campaign, for which Miller became a trusted advisor and often served as a warm-up act at big rallies.

And it all started out here:

It was the picturesque campus blocks from the Pacific Ocean where Miller engaged in his first political battles: in the classroom, where teachers didn’t know what to do with him; at the school newspaper, where he wrote an op-ed, “A Time to Kill,” supporting the Iraq War; at district offices, where he tangled with administrators.

Oscar de la Torre, a former counselor and now school board member who sparred publicly with the young student, recalled the frustrations of working with the teenage Miller on a district committee that was scrutinizing the community fundraising imbalance between wealthier and poorer campuses.

“Early on in life, he was on a crusade against liberalism and liberals,” said De La Torre, who grew up in Santa Monica’s historically Latino and African American Pico neighborhood and graduated a decade before Miller. “He just didn’t buy it. He didn’t believe the oppression existed. This guy is 17 years old, and it’s like listening to someone who’s 70 years old – in the 1930s.”

Trump is seventy years old, and America’s best-known and least-liked (sort of) conservative, and it seems like that late thirties again, but Miller is a special case:

Santa Monica was experiencing growing pains as Miller came of age at the start of the 21st century. The city was transforming from a laid-back coastal community of rundown rent-controlled apartments into an upscale celebrity and tourist mecca. But it still suffered from entrenched working-class poverty and on-again, off-again gang violence.

Samohi [the school’s nickname out here] – the city’s biggest public high school – served as a laboratory for addressing the clash between cultures and rising income inequality.

These were the late 1990s, the years immediately after a mostly white jury acquitted Los Angeles police officers in the beating of motorist Rodney King, sparking days of civil unrest; when Latino students staged walkouts to protest Proposition 187, a California ballot measure that would have prohibited children who illegally immigrated from going to public schools or receiving government-paid medical care.

Those were the times, and enter our hero:

Miller grew up in the north-of-Montana neighborhood, the middle child, in a Jewish family of longtime Franklin Roosevelt Democrats. He played tennis and golf. But their status abruptly shifted when his parents’ real estate company faltered and the family moved to a rental on the south side of town.

A subscription to Guns and Ammo magazine introduced him to the writings of National Rifle Assn. leader Wayne LaPierre, sparking Miller’s interest in politics. The conservative ideas were like nothing he had ever heard.

By the time Miller began his freshman year in 1999, minority students were the majority on campus, and the community was engulfed in conversations about race and class. The district was working to improve the educational outcomes for all students, not just the wealthier graduates scooped up by Stanford University and UC Berkeley, in part by emphasizing an inclusiveness that has become a mainstay at schools elsewhere today.

Then 9/11 hit, and as Miller watched Samohi respond to the 2001 terrorist attacks – he says teachers and administrators openly opposed the Iraq war and mocked then-President George W. Bush – he “resolved to challenge the campus indoctrination machine,” he wrote in Frontpage Magazine, a publication from David Horowitz, the 1960s Marxist-turned-conservative author.

And the rest is history:

Miller contacted radio show host Larry Elder, the conservative African American commentator, becoming a regular guest and attacking the liberal bias he says he felt at school. He welcomed Horowitz to speak on campus, sparking resistance, as he tells it, from the administration.

And he began to garner his first national audience as conservative listeners from around the country called or faxed complaints to the school, much to the dismay of administrators.

“He would take the opposing position and almost shock people. It would send reverberations through the room,” said one acquaintance granted anonymity to speak frankly about Miller. “He would sort of chuckle and enjoy that.”

He was made for the Trump administration:

Kesha Ram, a student activist who led “racial harmony” retreats and often sparred with Miller, said his views, not surprisingly, made him an outsider at a school where multiculturalism was valued and a white male-dominated society was challenged.

“Stephen really did grow up in an environment where he could feel what it was like for white males to feel like the minority,” said Ram, the daughter of an immigrant Pakistani-Hindi father and American-born Jewish mother.

“I think he was one of the first examples we all had of someone who really felt threatened and left out by our celebration of multiculturalism and diversity,” said Ram, a former Vermont state representative who campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

And those who are threatened lash out:

Miller also repeated the false claim that Trump underperformed in the general election because of “massive voter fraud.” Miller provided no evidence to support his assertions in his ABC appearance – something [host George] Stephanopoulos pointed out to viewers.

Miller repeated claims Trump made privately to senators this past week that he narrowly lost the general election in New Hampshire because thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused into New Hampshire to vote illegally there.

“I can tell you that this issue of busing voters into New Hampshire is widely known by anyone who’s worked in New Hampshire politics.”

Those who work in New Hampshire politics were quick to say, no, that’s not so, but never mind:

Miller went on to say that there is “enormous evidence” of people being registered to vote in more than one state, of “dead people voting” and noncitizens being registered to vote.

“George, it is a fact – and you will not deny it – that there are massive numbers of noncitizens in this country who are registered to vote,” Miller said. “That is a scandal. We should stop the presses. And, as a country, we should be aghast about the fact that you have people who have no right to vote in this country registered to vote, canceling out the franchise of lawful citizens of this country.”

At that, Stephanopoulos intoned: “For the record, you have provided zero evidence that the president was the victim of massive voter fraud in New Hampshire. You provided zero evidence that the president’s claim that he would have won the popular vote if 3 million to 5 million illegal immigrants hadn’t voted – zero evidence for either one of those claims.”

The fact-checkers had a lot of fun with all this – it’s all total nonsense – but it doesn’t matter. It was Santa Monica High School all over again. Like his new boss, Miller is a patriot-provocateur:

Miller’s combative appearances pleased his boss, who apparently was watching from Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump tweeted: “Congratulations Stephen Miller- on representing me this morning on the various Sunday morning shows. Great job!”

Fine, but the White House isn’t Santa Monica High School, and as Politico reports, in the White House patriot-provocateurs make for lousy staffers:

President Donald Trump, frustrated over his administration’s rocky start, is complaining to friends and allies about some of his most senior aides – leading to questions about whether he is mulling an early staff shakeup.

Trump has told several people that he is particularly displeased with national security adviser Michael Flynn over reports that he had top-secret discussions with Russian officials about and lied about it. The president, who spent part of the weekend dealing with the Flynn controversy, has been alarmed by reports from top aides that they don’t trust Flynn. “He thinks he’s a problem,” said one person familiar with the president’s thinking. “I would be worried if I was General Flynn.”

Michael Flynn is a provocateur. He’s on record saying that Islam is NOT a religion – it’s a political ideology, no more, no less – and the CIA folks are all fools, and the Russians are our buddies, and so on and so forth. He’s like Miller. He’ll take the opposing position just to shock people and sort of chuckle and enjoy that, but he’s only one guy:

Trump’s concern goes beyond his embattled national security adviser, according to conversations with more than a dozen people who have spoken to Trump or his top aides. He has mused aloud about press secretary Sean Spicer, asking specific questions to confidants about how they think he’s doing behind the podium.

Others who’ve talked with the president have begun to wonder about the future of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. Several Trump campaign aides have begun to draft lists of possible Priebus replacements, with senior White House aides Kellyanne Conway and Rick Dearborn and lobbyist David Urban among those mentioned. Gary Cohn, a Trump economic adviser, has also been the subject of chatter.

Perhaps so, but Miller saved his ass:

For now, Priebus remains in control as chief of staff. He was heavily involved in adviser Stephen Miller’s preparation for appearances on Sunday morning talk shows, which drew praise from the president.

Still, there are other problems:

If there is a single issue where the president feels his aides have let him down, it was the controversial executive order on immigration. The president has complained to at least one person about “how his people didn’t give him good advice” on rolling out the travel ban and that he should have waited to sign it instead of “rushing it like they wanted me to.” Trump has also wondered why he didn’t have a legal team in place to defend it from challenges.

Hey! Everyone was out there being provocative! What did he expect?

He didn’t expect this:

White House aides say it can be hard to know what will make Trump happy, or what will anger him. Some aides chafed at Conway’s decision to plug Ivanka Trump’s merchandise line on television, a move that drew widespread criticism, including from ethics experts who said she was walking a dangerous line. But, far from hurting her internally, Trump liked the appearance, and her standing has increased in his eyes, said several people close to the president.

Yet, as the notoriously image-conscious president endures days of negative headlines, some aides have begun to worry. One person who spoke with the president recently said he seemed to be looking for someone to point his finger at.

“You’re not going to see Trump come out and say I was wrong,” this person said. “If you’re waiting on him to take the blame, you’re going to be waiting a long time.”

Heads will roll. Those kids think they have a right to be a pain in the ass. They don’t. That’s his job.

That also assures chaos:

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian who recently met with Trump, said the presidency had been “off to the rockiest start that I can remember.”

“Everything he rolls out is done so badly,” Brinkley said. “It reeks of being short-staffed and not having a true pecking order of production from the White House. They’re just releasing comments, tweets and policies willy-nilly. It’s been a very convulsive and confusing first few weeks, but nevertheless it’s been salad days if you care about Republican policies.”

Maybe so, but even that has its limits. There are leaks from those in distress, and the New York Times covers the latest batch of those:

These are chaotic and anxious days inside the National Security Council, the traditional center of management for a president’s dealings with an uncertain world.

Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump’s Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues, after hearing that Mr. Trump’s top advisers are considering an “insider threat” program that could result in monitoring cellphones and emails for leaks.

The patriot-provocateur tweets. They try to turn that into policy, as they also fear they’ll be shown the door if they bitch about it. It might be better to quit:

President Barack Obama replaced his first national security adviser, Gen. James Jones, a four-star former supreme allied commander in Europe, after concluding that the general was a bad fit for the administration. The first years of President George W. Bush’s council were defined by clashes among experienced bureaucratic infighters – Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Colin Powell among them – and by decisions that often took place outside official channels.

But what is happening under the Trump White House is different, officials say, and not just because of Mr. Trump’s Twitter foreign policy. (Two officials said that at one recent meeting, there was talk of feeding suggested Twitter posts to the president so the council’s staff would have greater influence.)

A number of staff members who did not want to work for Mr. Trump have returned to their regular agencies, leaving a larger-than-usual hole in the experienced bureaucracy.

They’re fed up:

Trump appointees are carrying coffee mugs with that Trump campaign slogan into meetings with foreign counterparts, one staff member said.

Nervous staff members recently met late at night at a bar a few blocks from the White House and talked about purging their social media accounts of any suggestion of anti-Trump sentiments.

And add this:

While Mr. Obama liked policy option papers that were three to six single-spaced pages, council staff members are now being told to keep papers to a single page, with lots of graphics and maps.

“The president likes maps,” one official said.

Paper flow, the lifeblood of the bureaucracy, has been erratic. A senior Pentagon official saw a draft executive order on prisoner treatment only through unofficial rumors and news media leaks. He called the White House to find out if it was real and said he had concerns but was not sure if he was authorized to make suggestions.

And then there’s their boss, Michael Flynn:

Two people with direct access to the White House leadership said Mr. Flynn was surprised to learn that the State Department and Congress play a pivotal role in foreign arms sales and technology transfers. So it was a rude discovery that Mr. Trump could not simply order the Pentagon to send more weapons to Saudi Arabia – which is clamoring to have an Obama administration ban on the sale of cluster bombs and precision-guided weapons lifted – or to deliver bigger weapons packages to the United Arab Emirates.

Michael Flynn is a provocateur. Details are for others – but this isn’t high school – but maybe it is. Those of us who once taught high school remember those years. Some high school kids can be a real a pain in the ass, and they’ll go through life being a pain in the ass, and then they’ll run the country, badly. Some people are born provocateurs. Others grow up. Perhaps we should have elected them, not that it matters now. We didn’t, and now it’s just another day at Santa Monica High School.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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