The "deep state" is a figment of Steve Bannon’s imagination

To Steve Bannon and his colleagues in the White House, the Deep State is an adversary to be destroyed. In recent remarks, the president’s chief strategist called for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” According to the Washington Post, he’s been whispering in President Trump’s ear about the Deep State’s alleged campaign to ruin him. And, truth be told, charged with leaking for its own purposes, thwarting Trump’s policy priorities and ousting his appointees, this Deep State sure looks quite guilty in the context of a chaotic first six weeks in office.

But it’s far easier to blame shadowy bureaucrats than to take responsibility for your own failures. The president’s executive order on terrorism didn’t fail because the Deep State sabotaged it; it failed because an insular White House did not seek or heed its advice. Leaks did not bring down former national security adviser Michael Flynn; his deception of Vice President Mike Pence did. Though it is impossible to know, much of the exposure of White House infighting that so angers Trump seems far more likely to be coming from his senior aides than from low-level bureaucrats.

None of which is to say that Bannon’s view of the world is completely baseless. Bureaucracies have institutional interests they are loath to let go of, and are plagued by an inertia resistant to disruption. This is common to all large organizations, not a flaw unique to the U.S. system of government. But Trump has a tool to manage this dynamic that he has inexplicably chosen not to wield: placement of around 4,000 political appointees throughout the bureaucracy. Inserting his personal emissaries throughout the Deep State would give him far more political control over the civil servants he perceives to be rebelling, and at the same time give his team better access to their expertise. But not a single one has been confirmed below Cabinet level.