I spent the past 22 years teaching students how to become members of the “deep state.”
Of course, we didn’t call it that, or see it as the negative that phrase suggests. Our faculty taught students who planned to enter public service–or civil society–the skills, knowledge and especially the specific ethical principles such service requires.
I even co-authored a textbook: American Public Service: Constitutional and Ethical Foundations.
What the neanderthals sneeringly call “the deep state” is a bureaucracy devoted to those principles–government employees who understand that their loyalty is not to transient political authorities, but to a constitutionally-grounded ethic of public service. Every time civil servants have thwarted Trump, they have demonstrated a commitment to those principles.
A recent post to Juanita Jean described how a principled government workforce–the ethical denizens of that “deep state”–acted to “preserve and protect” the operations of one government agency: Radio Free Europe.
Trump had installed one of his loyalists, a typical Trump sycophant named Michael Pack, to manage the agency. Pack proceeded to replace members of the board and senior staff with Trumpers, ideologues, and conservative activists. He also dissolved all of the boards of agencies under his authority and packed those boards and the staffs of those agencies with what has been described as “a rogue’s gallery of religious fanatics, activists, ideologues and weirdos.”
Biden has already signaled a housecleaning once he assumes office, but according to reports, Pack is not planning on going quietly–he secretly began entering into binding employment contracts with his handpicked staff–the terms of which would block any Biden firings for two years.
The linked post tells what happened next.
When the career staff found out what Pack was doing, they said not no, but hell no, and blew the whistle. Day before yesterday, they sent a four page letter to McConnell, Pelosi, and Senate and House leaders, the Inspector General, and the presidential transition team. The letter was signed by over two dozen staffers including the editorial board, the editor in chief, and all the heads of the global regional operations. In the letter, they made this statement:
“These actions include your recent distribution of a revised grant agreement with RFE/RL that has been unilaterally prepared by your office and is intended to revoke RFE/RL’s financial autonomy and embed your appointees within both RFE/RL and its Board of Directors for a period of two years – an unprecedented departure from RFE/RL’s tradition of working in a bipartisan manner with changing U.S. administrations. This conflicts with the appointment process enshrined in law and in our bylaws, and is precisely the kind of political power maneuver that RFE/RL regularly witnesses in places like Russia, Hungary, Belarus, and Tajikistan. We never thought we’d see it from our own oversight agency.”
What’s particularly galling is that in October a Superior Court Judge in DC ruled that Pack had acted illegally in dissolving the board and seizing control of the Open Technology Fund which was established to help areas of the world access to open and secure internet access. Pack has ignored the court order and refused to reestablish the boards he dissolved.
Lawyers and political scientists talk a lot about the importance of the rule of law. What Pack attempted at Radio Free Europe is a perfect example of what happens when people in positions of authority ignore their ethical/constitutional obligations and make a mockery of the rule of law.
It took the courageous revolt by those much-reviled bureaucrats of the “deep state” to prevent the thugs and mobsters of the Trump Administration from eviscerating constitutional controls on agency operations.
Similar scenarios have undoubtedly played out in other parts of the federal government. We owe the much-maligned “deep state” our respect and our gratitude.