The Deep State Revealed

Author: Gary Hart

It would be interesting to know who schooled Donald Trump on what he calls “the deep state.”  When he first began to allude to it he made it sound like a cabal inside the U.S. Government, a secret cult that managed the complex institutions of government regardless of party or administration in office according to its own evil designs.  For any of us with experience in everyday governance, this was delusional at best and wacky at worst.

Now it is beginning to emerge that Mr. Trump was actually referring to the senior civil service in our Government, the people who rose through the ranks of one agency or another to management level positions.  They may not be the exact equivalent of the professional civil servants in the British Government, but a somewhat more casual version of that.

As individuals and as a collective group the senior civil service remains through changes of Congresses and shifts in political parties.  These men and women know their departments, agencies, and bureaus.  They are versed in laws enacted by Congress and often write the regulations those laws required to be administered.

They are, in short, the day to day glue that keeps our Government working.  And, though administrations may tilt liberal or conservative, by and large the laws are the laws and the regulations, though sometimes revised, are the regulations.

This is the “deep state” Trump sees as his enemy.  Because he does not want the Government to work.  Or, better stated, he wants the Government to work his way when he orders it.  So, his quarrel with the “deep state” is that it does the job that many Congresses and many administrations over many decades have given it.  And he does not want that to happen.

What we have here is authoritarianism pure and simple.

This accounts for the massive refusal throughout the Trump administration to appoint officials at the State Department and key domestic departments and to sideline career foreign service officers and career bureau chiefs into meaningless jobs well beneath their respective levels of competence.  Civil service legal protections prevent mass firings.  But they do not protect against arbitrary diminishment.

If, as president, you wish to bypass established structures and procedures, those created by a long series of Congresses before you, you dismiss those historic precedents as a “deep state”, an obstructionist system which will not and cannot permit you to rule by whim, ego, or arbitrariness.  That is what is meant by the rule of law and that is what Trump’s war on the “deep state” is all about.

Others have noted the comparison to the rise of right-wing authoritarianism in European democracies.  We are now seeing it in America with conservative packing of courts, attacks on the free press, dismissal of opposition parties, destruction of the civil service, disregard for the career foreign service, and arbitrary authoritarian rule.  And of challenges from the Republican controlled Congress there is none.

The “deep state” is the last bastion of American democracy because it refuses to disobey the laws, dismantle legally enacted programs based on science and reason, and tear apart the fabric of programs and policies lawfully enacted over the years by both parties.

Trump’s program is to personally run all aspects of government, domestic and foreign, from the White House.  This is the essence of authoritarianism, nowhere now seen more clearly that his war on his own Department of Justice, FBI, and law enforcement agencies.  This accounts for the now routine shuffling in and out of cabinet officers, White House staff, and advisors in an effort to have layers of insulation from question or criticism.

Most presidents have sought continuity and reliability.  This president revels in chaos.  Few think this is a healthy attribute.

Authoritarianism historically is associated with xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, economic insecurity, and social instability, none of which characterized America before Trump.  He manufactured it by making Mexican and Muslim immigrants criminals, decrying a level of urban crime that did not exist, imagining nuclear developments in Iran not taking place, and ridiculing even our closest allies.

He would solve all these threats…if it were not for the “deep state” which surrounded him and frustrated all his unilateral actions.

We now have a clearer picture of what we face: a senior civil service doing its Constitutional job and a president out to destroy it.  The outcome of this struggle will determine what America will remain or what it will become for decades to follow.

8 Responses to “The Deep State Revealed”

  1. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    What will be the consequences when a president and a chairman of the House Committee on Intelligence act successfully to out an FBI/CIA informant and can the deep history of that informant’s activities validate his outing?

  2. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Actually, that was not a rhetorical question … not by a long shot! 🙂

  3. Gary Hart Says:

    Apologies, Elizabeth, but this has been a hectic period. The greatest danger of outing an informant is loss of trust throughout the system, in this case the US intelligence system. This is what happened with the infamous Bush/Cheney outing of CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame as childish but dangerous retaliation against her husband’s refutation of the White House claim that Saddam Hussein was importing uranium from Niger. An unknown number of informants worldwide bailed out of helping the US for fear of being identified. As the FBI Director has testified, the day informants are identified, especially for political purposes, is the day US citizens become much less secure. In other words, the deep history of activities rules against outing. GH

  4. Eric Jacobson Says:

    I am less-and-less able to avoid the conclusion that non-conservative Americans “have met the enemy and he is us” in Pogo cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Vietnam War-era dictum.

    As their polling support of Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump showed, in 2015-2016 the American people wanted the policies of enlightened populism, protectionism of American industrial manufacturing and military non-interventionism Sanders stood-for. The extant right-centrist American establishment was- then (and still is) TOTALLY discredited in the eyes of the public and correctly so. THIS is “what happened” in 2015-2016: Humpty-Dumpty (the credibility of arrogant ruling elites and all their institutions) fell off the wall and no amount of commercial media bias, revisionist history or status-quo-ante-defense could then- or will now put him together again.

    The tragedy (and present crisis) lay in the fact that the Republican powers-that-be “got it” and Trump received his party’s nomination and the Democratic powers-that-be didn’t “get it” and Sanders didn’t receive his party’s nomination. All the rest is commentary (and history).

    Trump won the general election because he promised (at least strongly implied) he would (from his position of autonomy as a white-privileged-billionaire-untouchable quasi-criminal American oligarch) transmute into a serious substantively populist/moderate-Republican and bipartisan (Trump+Sanders+ Chuck+Nancy) public servant upon taking office. (It was his only chance for a non-disastrous presidency.) But no such luck.

    Hindsight being 20-20: Trump was all along (and is now) a political imposter, an utterly fraudulent tv and movie character actor (Green Acres/Being There/Zelig/The Great Dictator) nutter/confection, a pathological liar and unhinged chameleon. Trump conspired- and surrounded himself with the same rightist Republican “usual suspects” in an effort to reinstate and extend the regressive logic and legacies of Goldwater-Nixon-Reagan-Bush (GHW and GW) U.S. Not-Great society business-as-usual. In so doing, Trump betrayed and made fools of his “base” voters, as they are slowly-but-surely realizing. “Green Acres is the place to be” indeed, eh Iowans? Watch and weep: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=23&v=AiZqFGLAeAc .

    Senator: Your erudite lamentations regarding the president are similar to those of Never-Trump Republicans such as Tom Nichols here: https://harvardmagazine.com/2018/03/death-of-expertise-by-tom-nichols . Such Never-Trump Republicans understand they now have no constituency whatsoever amongst the GOP real powers-that-be (the rightist oligarchs and the know-nothing multitudes) and some are joining the Democrats out of fraternity with the Democrats’ (now fading) powers-that-be: the neoliberal oligarchs and fiscally conservative/socially liberal multitudes. But given the populist-trending pro-Sanders Democratic electorate, Never-Trump Republicans have virtually no cross-over political appeal and ability to win general elections. Richard Painter, GW Bush’s ethics advisor (an oxymoron is there ever was one) will surely learn as much in Minnesota in his current quest for a Senate seat. Neoliberal Democrats who “feel the pain” of Never-Trump Republicans likewise have virtually no appeal to the Sanders-oriented Democratic majority.

    The takeaway I am getting-at in this brief (conclusory) comment and previous detailed ones in which I’ve substantively railed against neoliberalism, the Democrats’ “unbearable Republican-liteness of being” and the disastrous domestic and foreign policy consequences of same, is this: No Democratic candidate or line of argument premised on Trump as a disruptive agent to a (fantasized) salutary directly-pre-Trump status quo purportedly characterized by rule by decent responsible non-corrupt non-rightist elite leadership and governance will avail the Democrats in 2018 or 2020. There was no such remotely-recent pre-Trump America! There WAS such a “brief shining moment” of sorts in the early 1960s (the one you came of age in professionally) but it ended with the assassinations of Nov. 1963-June 1968. You might have rebuilt it had your candidate Sen. McGovern won the 1972 presidential election, or had G-d given you 2 terms as president between Jan. 1989-Jan.1997. But “one man’s luck” (the title of your 1988 campaign book) ran out. A 92-year-old (going on 93!) was just installed as Malaysia’s prime minister by popular demand though, so let’s all “never say never…” See https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/09/world/asia/malaysia-election-najib-mahathir.html (including fun-facts towards the end about Trump and the ousted ultra-corrupt prime minister.)

    There has now been 50 years of continuous conservative rule in our beloved NON-CONSERVATIVE country! The public wants serious progressive Change with a capital C. Fervently criticizing Trump and his rightist cadres (from any non-conservative substantive POV) is of course highly called-for, but favorably contrasting a profoundly flawed (Carter-Clinton-Obama) malaise-ridden neoliberal Republican-lite past with the demented chaotic and dangerous present, is somewhere between unhelpful and counterproductive. Ironically it’s a repetition of the Democrats’ fateful mistake in nominating Carter’s VP Mondale over yourself in 1984! (Obama’s VP Joe Biden may find this out the hard way if the Democrats are foolish enough to nominate him in 2020.) And more saliently, it downplays the Democrats similar profound error in nominating Hillary over Bernie in 2016. Politically-speaking: In the expression of your would-be 1988 presidential election opponent GHW Bush: “Not gonna work!”

  5. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Senator Hart,

    Indeed, the loss of trust, in general, will be a hallmark of the Trump presidency, mercifully truncated or not.

    President Trump and Rep. Nunez are responsible for the outing of an FBI informant who was trying to gain insight into Trump-Russia coordination during the 2016 presidential election, at least as far as I understand.

    If that is true, then I would expect the outing would be a big part of the Mueller investigation and I would hope that there will be severe consequences for Trump and Nunez and for anyone else involved in the outing.

    Because I agree with Director Wray about the seriousness of identifying informants – even if the informant in question here has a very long history of what could be described as nefarious activities.

    I wish the media would stop sweating the small stuff and start focusing on the overarching and seriously destructive aspects of the Trump administration. I’m beginning to think we’re in for a second term … 🙁

  6. Neil McCarthy Says:

    To Mr. Jacobson:

    How, precisely, were these so-called neoliberal failures named Clinton and Obama to have governed in the face of Congresses that did not remotely share the progressive views (indeed, for most of their time were controlled by the GOP) you say are so eagerly awaiting the proper Democratic candidate.

    You can tag Carter with that label, though in his time there wasn’t a “neo-liberal” consensus. That came later. And though I think Carter was not a particuarly good President (albeit a nice man and laudable human being), he was largely hoist on the petard of the Arab oil embargoes, staglflation and the Iranian hostage crisis.

    As for Sen. Hart, whom I love, as I recall, at the time he was in the Senate (and especially during the 1978-1984 period), he was thought to be one of the neo-liberals (along with Senators like Tsongas and Bradley). It may be fair to criticize that group as having been insufficiently committed to the New Deal (which was not Walter Mondale’s problem) but, in fairness, the forces that weakened the New Deal (principally anti-unionism and world trade) were emerging then and they were looking for ways to preserve Roosevelt’s gains in the face of those challenges. So focus on education, high tech, industrial policy, and some of the now criticized nanny-state stuff that actually works started to emerge; in other words, neo-liberalism was born.

    Finally, Sen. McGovern lost in 1972 by an enormous margin (and then lost his Senate seat in 1980 along with a host of other progressives; Sen. Hart survived in 1980 but barely). And the neo-liberal moment was partly a response to all of that. It is true that the type of economic insecurity afoot today, and in 2008, the latter of which was pretty much a depression (saved only from a 1929-like complete collapse by the New Deal programs and structures put in place in the ’30s), can generate fascism, and this is happening with Trump now (even if critics do not like to call it that, essentially because we always thinks we are so different from the rest of the world; but in truth, that is more or less, even if less, what it is). Another alternative is socialism, but America has never accepted that — not in the 1930s and not in the late 19th century when depressions/recessions were common and extreme inequality first reared its ugly head; up until then, the US was largely agricultutal and our welfare policy, as it were, was westward expansion. In any case, I do not think socialism will work now because I do not think it will win a sufficient number of elections at the local, state and national level.

    I am a bit tired of progressives criticizing Clinton and Obama for being insufficiently progressive. Hillarycare was progressive; so was Obamacare and the Obama stimulus package; and these efforts at progressvism were followed by the 1994 Gingrich revolution and the 2010 Tea Party debacle. I was ruuning for Congress in 1994 and remember it well; being in favor of national health insurance was not a vote-getter then in third ring outer suburban districts like mine.

    Bottom line — you can’t be a progressive President without a progressive Congress. FDR and LBJ had one. Clinton and Obama did not.

  7. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    Eric,

    Why would the Democrats be foolish to nominate Joe Biden in 2020!?

  8. Elizabeth Miller Says:

    I would posit, Eric, that the Democrats would be foolish if they did not nominate Biden.

    In fact, should Senator Biden announce his intention to run again, such an announcement should bloody clear the field! ( I’m talkin’ to YOU, Hillary!)

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