Monday, November 18, 2019

Deep State? Nope

I got triggered by this CBC story about the "deep state."  The story does a fair job of charting the development of the phrase, mostly by the far right, as part of conspiracy theories.  The problem with the piece is that it refers to all kinds of stuff that are legitimate concepts, which then lends a patina of legitimacy to the concept.

Yes, there is a military-industrial complex.  Eisenhower was not wrong.  But, no, it is not a unified actor, but a web of interactions and interests that tend to produce things like arms races.  we can blame the wars of the recent past on politicians and their interests, not some dark forces controlling them.  Influence?  Often.  Control?  Nope.

The problem these days is that Trump and his reactionary allies use it all the time to describe those in government who are .... doing their damned jobs.  Those people testifying last week and this week about what they saw Trump, Guiliani, etc do and say are doing so because they swore an oath to protect and serve the Constitution, not the President.  Lt. Colonel Vindman's case is more complicated (see this complicated piece) because he is an acting member of the US military, except it is not more complicated.  Why?  Because the military, like every other executive agency, is accountable not just to the White House but to Congress.

The reason why Trump keeps running into problems with folks in government is because Trump feels he is beyond the law and feels like the Presidency gives him the power to pursue his own interests, not the American interests.  So, when he conspires with Russians, the FBI gets involved.  When Trump tries to extort a country, members of the National Security Council detailed from various government agencies get involved.  And so on.  The central ingredient in all of this is not some nefarious actor within government, but Trump's unwillingess to "faithfully execute" the laws of the US.  This is not the deep state conspiring or acting against him.  Instead, it is the institutions of governance operating according to the rules that have been developed over two hundred and thirty years

Sure, there are bureaucratic politics always in play--that actors will generally stand on issues based on where they are in the bureaucracy.  And, yes, there are incentives and structures that lead organizations to develop cultures and interests.  But these again are not coherent rational actors.  The various agencies are rivals for money, power, influence, prestige, and autonomy.  They don't play well together.  The story of 9/11 involves, for instance, how the CIA and FBI could not coordinate because of their rival missions, identities, and interests.

Being President is hard--it takes a lot of work and smart staff to coordinate all the agencies.  Trump does not do hard work, and he finds loyalty be far more important in his staffers than intelligence, wisdom, experience, expertise, or integrity.  Trump always believed that there was something wrong with Obama since he could not wish policies into place.  Indeed, Trump was the ultimate believer in the Green Lantern theory--that one only has to imagine something to make it so.

The problem now is that any mention of the deep state is giving credibility to the bullshit spewed by the conspiracy theorists, and I just don't have any tolerance for that.  So, let's stop using the damned term, which is just distraction sauce.  Instead, let's focus on that whole failure to "faithfully execute the laws"--that Trump is in violation of his oath of office, and he is surprised that many of those in government are not willing to do the same.

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