Published on February 8th, 2017 | by Raffaella Gumbel0
Stephen Miller and the misrepresentation of Santa Monica
Growing up in Los Angeles, I learned that I belonged to a “liberal paradise” pretty early on. My views on gun control and women’s rights were challenged by the few, not the many. I knew that LA was a city of political fundraisers, not political campaigning. I was lucky to be represented in my city council and in Congress by many accomplished women and minorities.
However, when I read Lisa Mascaro’s piece in the Los Angeles Times entitled “How a liberal Santa Monica high school produced a top Trump advisor and speechwriter,” I found a description of my community and, especially, the high school that I currently attend as a senior, that left a bad taste in my mouth.
Through a little storytelling and a whole lot of condescension, the article portrayed Trump adviser and Santa Monica High School alumni Stephen Miller (‘03) as somewhat of a courageous figure, a conservative pushing his way through all the liberals. And it left me, and all of my peers, in a basket of so-called “too-cool-for-school” sensitive progressives whose only goals are to promote our agendas and squash the opposition.
I won’t pretend that I’m not living in a bubble. Nor will I pretend that there are certainly people in my community and in my school who would rather not hear the views of the other side. However, through my years at Samo, I have come to know it as a place where activism thrives; where people are encouraged to share their beliefs and fight for them. The walls of my classrooms aren’t lined with lovey-dovey shrines to Obama. They are lined with beacons of encouragement to do the right thing, even if you’re the only one saying anything. Sure, conservatives in Santa Monica aren’t often met with encouragement. However, they are argued against, not bullied into silence.
This article portrays us as those silence-inducing bullies and, frankly, it is upsetting. Through descriptions of my school as a “culturally sensitive environment” filled with unpatriotic students that passively “slouched in their chairs” while Miller valiantly recited the Pledge of Allegiance each morning, the author has presented a view that we can’t handle opposition to our ideas; we deserve to be taken down a few pegs. I don’t recite the Pledge every morning but I don’t look down on those that choose to with contempt.
Furthermore, this article quotes Miller as saying that his years at Samohi presented “challenges [that] were some of the toughest I faced in life.”
What about the challenges that Latino and black peers of Miller’s faced because of his constant denial of the existence of institutional racism, outlined in opinion articles he wrote for FrontPage Magazine? Or the challenges of students involved in MEChA, an organization designed to help Chicano students become educated and politically active, who were characterized by Miller in another one of his articles as members of “a radical national Hispanic group that believes in racial superiority and returning the southwestern United States to Mexico to create a ‘bronze nation’?” Or the challenges of Muslim students at Samohi who had to deal with a classmate who penned an article entitled “A Time to Kill” about the importance of invading — and eliminating citizens of — Iraq, mostly targeting the Muslim population there? Or even the challenges of my economics teacher who said that, while having Miller as a student, he went on conservative radio host Larry Elders’ show and lied about her performing unpatriotic activities, resulting in her receiving death threats and requiring an escort to her car each night?
The LA Times article fails to recognize any of the above. It spends too much time implying that, despite his somewhat controversial opinions, Miller changed his high school for the better. He really showed us precious snowflakes.
Furthermore, this piece solidifies a sad reality: the Los Angeles Times doesn’t seem to understand anything about a neighborhood that lies 20 minutes from its headquarters. The article calls Santa Monica a “liberal enclave.” An enclave of where? Los Angeles, one of the most progressive cities and counties in the country? California, a state where Hillary Clinton won 61.5 percent of the 2016 Presidential vote?
What about the author’s description of Santa Monica before the late 1990’s being “a laid-back coastal community of rundown rent-controlled apartments” that “suffered from entrenched working-class poverty and on-again, off-again gang violence” while also describing us as a town of wealthy elites and elitists? From what I’ve gathered, these descriptions of Santa Monica are both accurate. However, the image of Santa Monica as dangerous and run-down was only accurate long before Miller was in high school. The author of the article portrays it as if Miller was growing up on the hard, mean streets of a Santa Monica that existed when he was still a toddler.
I know that, in writing a piece like this, it may be conveyed as exactly what people like Stephen Miller accused me and my classmates of: whiny, sensitive liberalism. In that, he is wrong. When I saw my community falsely portrayed on a national scale, I did exactly what Santa Monica High School taught me to do: I didn’t sit back and whine that the voice of someone more conservative than me was being heard a little better. I stood up for what I believe is right.