Old and busted: Democracy dies in darkness! New hotness: Let the Opaque Revolt begin? In today’s Washington Post, columnist Eugene Robinson pens a paean to the ‘deep state’ as the only force in the Beltway protecting us from the scourge of Donald Trump.
It’s a bit like the scene in Star Wars, but only if Leia had said, “Help us, Grand Moff Tarkin, you’re our only hope”:
Before this harebrained and reckless administration is history, the nation will have cause to celebrate the public servants derided by Trumpists as the supposed “deep state.”
The term itself is propaganda, intended to cast a sinister light upon men and women whom Trump and his minions find annoyingly knowledgeable and experienced. They are not participants in any kind of dark conspiracy. Rather, they are feared and loathed by the president and his wrecking crew of know-nothings because they have spent years — often decades — mastering the details of foreign and domestic policy.
God bless them. With a supine Congress unwilling to play the role it is assigned by the Constitution, the deep state stands between us and the abyss.
I’ll give Robinson some credit on the term ‘deep state,’ which is hyperbolic and much more applicable to nations without self-governing institutions. A more accurate term would be the “entrenched bureaucracy,” which itself wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t have its own ideology and special interests, much of that tied up in ensuring that it stays entrenched. Public-employee unions fight tooth and nail against any attempts to either shrink government or reduce their power, on the rare occasions where elected officials effectively attempt to do either.
And for that matter, I agree with Robinson on some other points too. The Helsinki Summit was a serious error, for instance, especially in Trump’s inability to confront Putin on hostile operations against the US and his dismissal of American intel in the presser afterward. The fact that Trump and the White House entertained even for a hot second the idea of giving Russian intel services an opening to interrogate former ambassador Michael McFaul as an equivalency to Russian interference was embarrassing, or should have been. Robinson seems most concerned, however, about whatever promises Trump made to Vladimir Putin in their private conversation, and calls for unelected bureaucrats to effectively seize the reins of government to expose and counter them:
If you worry, as I do, that Trump may have intentionally or unintentionally given away the store, you have to root for the deep state to find out what transpired in that room — and find ways to reverse, or at least mitigate, the damage. …
Democrats in Congress are powerless; the Republican leadership, spineless. Experienced government officials know that their job is to serve the president. But what if the president does not serve the best interests of the nation? In this emergency, the loyal and honorable deep state has a higher duty. It’s called patriotism.
This is a load of hyperbolic balderdash. In the first place, anything Trump promised won’t remain secret for long if he plans to fulfill those promises. He’ll have to work with Defense Secretary James Mattis, DNI Dan Coats, and likely Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make any concessions in Syria work, for instance, and all of these offices are accountable to Congress. On sanctions, he’d need Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Congress to go along, and ditto on any trade bargains and “nuclear proliferation.” In the American system of government, presidents don’t have the kind of unilateral authority to make formal executive agreements stick, let alone casual pledges tossed around in a meeting.
Want an example? Just ask Barack Obama about his unsigned executive agreement with Iran. There were plenty of people who thought that allowing the biggest state sponsor of terrorism to pursue nuclear weapons in ten years while sending pallets of cash to Tehran didn’t “serve the best interests of the nation,” either. Did Robinson suggest then that unelected bureaucrats seize the reins of power and reverse that?
No, and neither did any serious observer either. Instead, the issue became part of the next election and that policy was reversed, thanks to the authority granted Trump by the voters. However, the authority Trump does have comes along with accountability to the voters who granted it to him. If he makes mistakes, voters can correct them by electing a different president in two years. Entrenched bureaucracies don’t answer to voters, and in some cases don’t answer to anybody. How do voters correct their mistakes? What accountability to the electorate do they have? None at all, and there’s little reason to think that their judgment will be any less self-interested, petty, or malicious than what we have now.
One would think that a newspaper who ostentatiously adopted their current motto, “Democracy dies in darkness,” would consider what a coup d’etat by unelected bureaucrats would do to transparency. Instead, they’re cheerleading for an undemocratic and completely unnecessary palace revolt out of irrational hysteria — and making Trump’s argument on the “deep state” all the more credible at the same time. It’s an amazing own-goal for the media establishment, and it proves once again that Trump is continually blessed by the quality of his political opposition.
Update: I substituted”Darth Vader” for Grand Moff Tarkin shortly after publication.