The Ludicrous Idea of a “Deep State”

There are many people in America who believe in various conspiracies.  Area 51.  The Kennedy assassination.  The moon landing.  That 9/11 was carried out by the CIA.  That the Holocaust never happened.  That vaccines cause autism.  Etc, etc., etc.

Conspiracy theories are believed by many gullible people, but even by some very smart and educated people who you would think would know better.  And, on very rare occasions, things come out that show not every conspiracy theory was completely nuts.  The CIA did help overthrow governments in Guatemala, Iran and Chile.  The government did try to poison alcohol during the Prohibition.  Both the Vietnam War and the second Gulf War were started based on government misinformation.

But these are the exceptions to a rule that still stands pretty firm.  Most conspiracy theories are ludicrously untrue.  Some of them are relatively harmless.  But many of them are very damaging to society.  They erode confidence in the institutions that protect us and govern us and generate unwarranted cynicism (coming from someone who is almost a professional cynic).

The idea of a “Deep State”, a secret shadow government of career bureaucrats who have their own agenda and are a shadowy power behind the throne working to thwart the will of the people (or at least their elected leaders) is one such dangerous and ludicrous conspiracy theory.

It’s dangerous because it causes people to hate, fear and mistrust the millions of dedicated career public servants who work extremely hard, but nonetheless endure tremendous abuse and contempt from the very people they serve.  It’s dangerous because it emboldens politicians to take moves to cut back the protections career bureaucrats have from political retaliation, opening the civil service to greater political manipulation and intimidation.

It’s ludicrous because nothing could be further from the truth.

I feel I am well placed to make that statement authoritatively, having served in government for nearly three decades, in positions of increasing responsibility.  I know the government pretty well.

I can say authoritatively that the people who serve in government are pretty much like any other Americans.  Perhaps a bit more patriotic, having chosen a career of public service (they didn’t do it for the money, although the benefits aren’t bad).  Certainly a good bit more educated, on average, and definitely more knowledgeable in their specific areas of policy responsibility.  They do tend to be a bit more liberal than the average American, but that’s hardly surprising, given how much conservatives attack them – it’s hard to embrace a political philosophy that thinks everything you do is useless.  And many parts of the government, particularly the military and law enforcement, are considerably more conservative than most Americans.

But, in general, government workers are just like every other American.  No better.  No worse.  The idea that such people were capable of coordinating a conspiracy like the “Deep State” is ludicrous on its face.  Those spreading this conspiracy are the ones with an agenda.  That agenda includes a politically controlled or intimidated bureaucracy that will carry our even unconstitutional and unlawful orders without question.  Believe me when I tell you that is not what would be best for America.

That is not to say that the career bureaucracy is without power and influence.  It has a lot of both.  It, in a sense, is the grease that keeps the machinery of America moving.  It has the power to advise and to recommend, frequently even to set the agenda by framing the questions that elected officials and those they appoint will consider.  This is nothing to be feared, however, unless you believe these people, who unlike most of the rest of America have actually sworn oaths to defend the Constitution and the people of America, are acting against the interests of America.  To the contrary, this is exactly what you want career bureaucrats to do.  Because they are insulated to a large degree from politics, it is their duty and responsibility to speak truth to power – to tell their political masters when they are about to make a mistake and what the consequences of ill-considered actions will be.  Trust me that government will not better represent the people if public servants are unable to carry out this duty because they are chosen for political loyalty or intimidated into silence.

Frankly, that is what drew me to government, and what kept me there for so long, serving proudly under both Democratic and Republican administrations.  It’s a rush for a policy geek like me to be able to influence decisions, even to influence history.  It was a thrill every time I heard the Secretary of State or the President mouth a phrase I had drafted.  It was deeply satisfying to participate in events that helped shape America and the world, even when I knew my small role would never be noted in any history book.  I knew I’d been there and that my efforts had made a difference, small as it may be.

This isn’t a “Deep State”.  It’s not a conspiracy to thwart the will of elected officials, and thus the people who elected them.   It’s career civil servants doing their jobs.  More than that, it is those people doing their duty to America, and thank God they are.

I left government a year or so ago because I felt that I could no longer honorably serve in what I believe is a thoroughly dishonorable administration.  My heart broke at having to stop serving the country I love, but I personally could not bear to be associated with the dangerous train wreck that is the Trump Administration.  Many others I know made the same decision and have resigned rather than carry out policies they know to be wrong, dangerous and against America’s interests.

But many more whom I also know and respect stayed behind, doing their jobs as they always have.  Providing advice and recommendations based on their considerable expertise, in the hopes of convincing or at least influencing their political masters.  Hoping to ride out the storm and that better days for America will come.  Thank God they did.  America owes them more than the contempt in which many of its citizens hold them.

There is no “Deep State”.  But there is a strong core of dedicated public servants who will keep doing their duty even if they are misunderstood and hated by many of the very people they serve.  God bless them.

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