This political cycle has brought us so much lexical richness: fake news, kompromat, and now the “deep state.” I am aware that many readers of this site might be in the avante garde of political thought, but for the rest of us who get their terms from Robert Ludlum and Brad Thor novels when we should read perhaps Mike Lofgren, maybe a short primer is in order.
My computer defines “deep state” as:
a body of people, typically influential members of government agencies or the military, believed to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.
Another term for this might be “shadow government,” an opaque group of hidden people who know all the secrets and can make or break the publicly elected officials who are titularly in charge. It’s the stuff of conspiracy theories.
You know, like George Soros or the Koch brothers (if you’re a liberal) controlling everything from a hidden launch command center dug out of the dormant magma chamber under Coloane Alto in Macau, staffed by vaguely asian overalls-wearing men, and women in short-short miniskirts.
The Wall Street Journal wrote that the intelligence community is withholding certain information from President Trump, not because it’s irrelevant or would bore him, but because they don’t trust him with it. So we must ask: does the U.S. have a deep state? And if we do, who is it?
If there is an American deep state, one of the leading candidates is the intelligence community. David Graham offered this in The Atlantic.
As a general rule, it’s probably unwise to pick a fight with spies, a point Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer made in early January. “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” he said. “So even for a practical, supposedly hard-nosed businessman, he’s being really dumb to do this.”
Back in the days of J. Edgar Hoover, it’s clear that he was a deep stater because he had files on literally everyone, and he wasn’t afraid to use them. Now the NSA, DIA, CIA, and other moving parts in the intelligence community have access to stuff that would have made a thrill travel up Hoover’s leg.
We live in a time where no communications are private, especially high-level government officials and transition teams working for an incoming president. But that information is highly classified and compartmentalized (with good reason). For there to be a deep state, there has to be someone high enough to have access to it and coordinate its use.
Enter Sally Yates. She was acting Attorney General, appointed under Obama. She is the one who let the cat out of the bag on Flynn. Then the floodgates opened between the IC and the press.
In reality, there’s almost certainly no American deep state in the sense of a permanent organized group who run things. But there is a “Resistance” against Trump. In some cases it’s informal, with GS rank and file scared for their jobs (like the DOE employees who purged all “climate change” materials). In other cases, it’s active cooperation with political forces dedicated to stopping Trump’s agenda.
It’s not just the leaks. At Slate, Phillip Carter argued that pushback from career officials had helped prevent Trump from instituting a plan to reinstate torture, labeling this the work of a deep state.
Meh. Bureaucrats are embedded self-interests in the government that every president has to work around. “Career officials” in many ways run things, and they know which battles can be fought and which storms should be ridden out. This happens at all levels of government and the military, every day, and has since 1789. (Remember Valerie Plame and Scooter Libby?)
Yet in this case, it seems the embedded self-interests are scared enough, and find enough encouragement from high-level former officials and the press, to work with more gusto against Trump. But it’s not really a deep state.
Should we worry about the future of our Republic given this? Potentially. Moving from “Resistance” to active sabotage and undermining of a sitting president is what’s known in navies around the world as mutiny. Mutiny is a capital offense. At some point, the President is going to do more than just tweet, and given Trump’s history and psychology, it’s not going to be pretty.
The problem with having the potential for a deep state, or a “Resistance” from inside is that to remove it, you have to severely damage the institutions it infects. We should be careful we don’t put ourselves in a situation from which we can’t emerge whole. Our enemies are also watching.