The federal government is an enormous bureaucracy, a fact few would argue. But why is it there? The answer is to provide the necessary services and support an equally enormous and diverse democratic society requires to function. We have departments that cover everything from defense and national security to foreign relations to law enforcement to transportation to agriculture.
Sure, there’s waste, fraud and abuse within these organizations, and yes, those who work for them have personal political views. But as with any private sector corporation, the folks who work for our federal government show up each day and perform the tasks they’re assigned. They are paid for performance and for the most part, they provide value to the American public.
A right-wing conspiracy theory, however, claims these departments and their officials and employees represent a nefarious “deep state” working against the interests of the American people.
It’s not new. Sen. Joseph McCarthy once waved a sheet of paper declaring he had the names of 205 communists working inside the State Department at the direction of the Soviet Union. The ensuing reign of terror destroyed many lives until McCarthy’s self-serving plot blew up in his face on national television.
The motivation today is no less self-serving, the conservative goal to tear down the institutions of government. For example, convince the public the CIA is full of nameless, faceless miscreants out to hurt American interests and eventually taxpayer funding dries up.
Who benefits? Our foreign adversaries like Russian President Vladimir Putin, for sure, along with the wealthy and corporations, which explains why so much dark money is “invested” in the campaigns of Republican politicians promising to undo the mythical deep state.
It’s already happening from within. President Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has done everything possible to destroy the morale of career diplomats and State Department employees.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is likewise ripping the guts out of her department, crippling public education in favor of the for-profit school industry.
The EPA’s acting administrator and carbon industry champion Andrew Wheeler is rolling back environmental protections with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Attorney General Bill Barr is acting as Trump’s personal attorney, sacrificing the traditional independence of the Justice Department to provide political cover for the president.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross tried unsuccessfully to tamper with the 2020 Census to undercount non-citizens.
If there is a deep state, these Trump-appointed officials and many others like them are it. Behind closed doors they are doing deliberate damage to the institutions they lead. Even the Supreme Court, where justice is supposed to be blind and the evidence impartially weighed, it appears the conservative majority has its thumb on the scale.
The Founders believed elected and appointed officials would, out of patriotism, always act in good faith to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law. They’d be appalled if they could see conservatives in Washington, where Trump is telling aides to ignore lawful House subpoenas and Sen. Lindsay Graham calls mounting evidence of the president’s Ukraine extortion scheme “a bunch of B.S.”
The deep state is not a couple of FBI employees exchanging texts in 2016 about how unfit Trump was to serve as president (more than half the country agreed). It’s not an FBI director refusing to swear personal loyalty to the president or spike an investigation into one of Trump’s advisers who was later convicted. It’s not a decorated Army officer telling House investigators what he learned during Trump’s Ukraine call.
Give conservative politicians and pundits credit, though. They know how to dumb down their talking points into easily consumed drivel.
“Deep state,” like “stable genius” or “gun grabber,” is just another yummy hors d’oeuvres to serve those wallowing in willful ignorance. Start with a lie or distortion, steep in resentment, add a cup of racial anxiety, a pinch of paranoia, spice with profanity, and plate at a Trump rally.
Many see through what Trump and his enablers are dishing out and they know how sick it can make our country. Longtime journalist Bill Moyers warned this week a “society, a democracy, can die of too many lies and we’re getting close to that terminal moment unless we reverse the obsession with lies.”
I’m hopeful the next 12 months will lead one way or another to the end of the insidious Trump presidency. Even Fox News polling shows voters are beginning to reject the lies and conspiracy theories pouring out of the White House, and recent state elections offer a snap shot. Virginia, once reliably red, just went deep blue, and a Democrat appears to have defeated the Trump-hugging governor in Kentucky.
Contrary to his hollow claim of uniting Americans, no president in our history has done more damage to this nation or its standing in the world. The divides have never been deeper, the mistrust and anger never more profound. America will be great again when Trump’s gone.