Tag Archives: “deep state

Who Do You Resent?

Political polarization has created newly rigid political identities, complete with required enemies. Not only do partisans detest each other, devout Republicans and (to a somewhat lesser extent) Democrats also coalesce around those common enemies.

Democrats disparage the “un-woke,” distrust billionaires and powerful corporations, and rail against climate-change-deniers.

Republicans sneer at higher education, fear immigrants, use “socialism” as a dirty word (despite considerable evidence that most of them have no idea what it is), and really, really hate “elitists” –i.e., experts who actually know what they’re talking about.

“Elitists” populate the equally despised and mischaracterized “deep state.”

Frank Bruni recently had a column in the New York Times in which he explored the GOP’s resentment of professionalism–especially the patriotic public servants that Trump’s current, despicable press secretary labels“radical unelected bureaucrats.”

The impeachment inquiry and the events that led to it tell many stories. One, obviously, is about the abuse of power. Another illuminates the foul mash of mendacity and paranoia at the core of Donald Trump.

But this week, as several longtime civil servants testify at the inquiry’s first public hearings, a third narrative demands notice, because it explains the entire tragedy of the Trump administration: the larger scandals, the lesser disgraces and the current moment of reckoning.

That story is the collision of a president who has absolutely no regard for professionalism and those who try to embody it, the battle between an arrogant, unscrupulous yahoo and his humble, principled opposites.

Bruni notes that Trump’s contempt for professionalism is part and parcel of his aversion to norms of all sorts, including tradition and simple courtesy, and that such contempt has been a “distinct theme” in his business career, which has been “rife with cheating, and his political life, which is greased with lies.”

Go back to his initial staffing of senior posts and recall how shoddy the vetting process was. Also notice two prominent classes of recruits: people who had profoundly questionable preparation for the jobs that he nonetheless gave them (Ben Carson, Betsy DeVos, Stephen Miller, Javanka) and genuine professionals who wagered that their skills would be critically necessary — and thus highly valued — and that Trump would surely rise to the established codes and expected conduct of his office.

Now look at how many of those professionals (James Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Gary Cohn, Dan Coats) are gone. And tell me whether Trump has ever had the epiphany that the presidency is, in fact, a profession.

Interestingly, the Trump Administration’s sorry excuse for vetting came to public notice again just this week, when multiple media outlets reported that a senior official had embellished her résumé with highly misleading claims about her professional background, and had gone so far as to create a fake Time magazine cover with her face on it. She had invented a role on a U.N. panel, claimed she had addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, and implied she had testified before Congress, none of which was true. Lying at this level should have been easy to uncover, but she was appointed–and continues to serve–as a deputy assistant secretary in the State Department.

As Bruni says

A crisis of professionalism defines his administration, in which backstabbing is the new glad-handing, firings are cruel, exits are ugly, the turnover is jaw-dropping, the number of unfilled positions is mind-boggling, and many officials have titles that are prefaced with “acting” — a modifier with multiple meanings in this case.

Trump slyly markets his anti-professionalism as anti-elitism and a rejection of staid, cautious thinking. But it’s really his way of excusing his ignorance, costuming his incompetence and greenlighting his hooliganism.

Two of the professionals who have come forward to testify about Trump’s effort to blackmail the President of Ukraine were described by Michael McFaul, a former United States ambassador to Russia, in a recent essay for The New York Review of Books titled “The Deeply Dedicated State.”

Both always have struck me as first-rate government servants, singularly focused on advancing American national interests. Both have served Republican and Democratic presidents, and even after decades of interacting with them both, I could not guess how either of them votes.”

He characterized them as “accidental heroes” who aren’t “likely to seek the limelight.” “They are extremely well trained, competent, and highly regarded professionals,” he summarized.

That’s why they bucked Trump. And that’s why he can’t bear them.

When people resent competence, when they sneer at honorable public servants as “elitists” or label them members of a nefarious “deep state,” it tells you a great deal about their own deficits.

Such resentment permeates today’s Republican Party, and that explains a lot.

 

The Deep State

Since Trump became President (or more accurately, took up residence in the White House), we’ve heard repeated accusations about the so-called “deep state.” The phrase is meant to denigrate government workers, and it has a lot in common with  other rhetoric employed by this administration, which labels immigrants “rapists and murderers,” Islamic citizens “terrorists,” and whistleblowers “traitors.”

It’s all shorthand for “here are people to fear and hate.”

Given the lack of precision with which Trump employs language, I initially assumed that pretty much any civil servant would meet his definition of the “deep state.” But over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall did a “deep dive” into the term–its accuracy (if any) and the identity of the presumably nefarious deep staters.

The phrase “deep state” originally comes from Turkey, where a “deep state” run by the military and security services allowed democratic politics to operate within prescribed bounds — but no further. The real government wasn’t the president or prime minister of the day but this “deep state.” It was autonomous and dominant and self-perpetuating.

In the first weeks of the Trump administration this phrase was taken up by the President and his entourage and applied to the U.S. Over three years it has become the catch-all term for unnamed enemies of the President plotting against him from within the federal bureaucracy.

Although–surprise!–here was no evil cabal lurking within the federal bureaucracy, Marshall and his reporters discovered something no less troubling.

They called what they found the “Conservative Deep State.” It wasn’t composed of shadowy forces motivated by conspiratorial theories, as the term might suggest. In fact, it was all out in the open.

We are talking about a dense network of right-wing lobbies, pressure groups, nurseries of political talent and prefab legislation, well-funded organizations usually operating at the state level which collectively create a strong rightward tilt in American governance. Elections remain critical. But they are contests on playing fields that are staked out, tilted and furrowed by organizing and money between elections.

Why is it, as parties frequently exchange the presidency and control of Congress, that state laws and regulations on everything from consumer protection to labor rights to voting seem to tilt steadily to the right? Why are Republicans so successful at gerrymandering and holding state legislative chambers?

The answer is this deep network. And you already know some of the names: The Koch Network, The American Legislative Exchange Council, The Federalist Society. Many others operate just as effectively, just below the radar.

There are certainly center-left analogs to all these groups, but none have managed to recreate the same levels of organization, funding or success that the Conservative Deep State enjoys today.

The operation of these networks, more than anything else, explains why Republicans control far more state governments than we would expect from their numbers, and why Americans can’t seem to enact policies that, according to survey research, enjoy overwhelming support.

Give credit where credit is due: the GOP is far, far more disciplined than the Democratic Party.  (The reasons are a subject for a different post.) That discipline allows them to do more with less.

The linked article was first in a series of reports on aspects of the Conservative Deep State.

Earlier this year we decided to publish a series on this topic — to commission a series of originally reported pieces on particular parts of the Conservative Deep State, how it functions, what it does, how it not only wins elections and helps pass laws but creates a right-wing ballast anchoring national and, even more, state and local politics on the right, even as public opinion on many issues shifts in the opposite direction.

As I read the linked article and those that followed, I kept thinking of The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe, where the object of the detective’s search was hidden in plain sight.

It turns out that, despite the name, the “Deep State” isn’t very deep at all. It’s right in front of us–subverting democracy.

 

That Nefarious DOJ

A number of the tantrums thrown by Trump and his Congressional enablers have focused on imaginary conspiracies at the Department of Justice–especially the FBI. They accuse a so-called “deep state” of waging a “bogus” Russia “witch hunt.”

It’s a hard sell, because it is so obviously defensive horseshit. Besides, any “deep state” worth having  would take on Jeff Sessions, who is arguably an obscenity with no redeeming social value.

Sessions’ racist past had been amply documented prior to his appointment (back when the GOP cared about such things, it cost him a federal judgeship). He has been enthusiastic about Trump’s hard line on immigration; re-instituted widely criticized asset forfeiture laws; threatened to withhold criminal justice funds from Sanctuary cities; refused to allow DOJ to engage in oversight of police departments –even those with which it has current consent decrees; and rolled back everything from voting rights enforcement to protections for transgender citizens.

Now he’s threatening to reverse Eric Holder’s  policy of respecting state-level prerogatives when it comes to marijuana policy. Per the Brookings Institution:

On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions opted to end a more than four-year-old policy that granted a safe haven for state-legal marijuana companies (and consumers) to engage in the cultivation, processing, sale, possession, and use of cannabis under tightly regulated conditions. This policy, known as the Cole Memo, was initially enacted during the Obama administration, in response to Colorado and Washington legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2012. The Cole Memo effectively told federal prosecutors not to bring cannabis-related cases in states that have legalized if and only if companies and consumers abide by a state-provided regulatory system and do not engage in other bad acts like engaging with drug cartels or selling to children.

Has the policy been perfect? No. Of course, no policy is. However, the Cole Memo did provide a system by which cannabis was no longer sold only by unregulated dealers and/or drug cartels. It provided safeguards and promoted the testing of products. It put states on notice to develop robust regulatory systems. It allowed an industry to move out of the shadows and into a system that taxed and regulated its products.

The Brookings analysis illustrates the utter stupidity of this decision. Ending these safeguards puts people at risk for adulterated product and increases ease of access for underage users. Studies show that legal access to marijuana decreases both underage use and opiod addiction. (Not that evidence has ever been a big part of this argument; our intrepid drug warriors have long ignored overwhelming data showing that weed is  far less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.)

Sessions’ decision is a windfall for drug dealers (as the Brookings’ report notes, “Attorney General Jeff Sessions will find a lot of opponents to his decision today. But hey, at least he’ll have the support of drug dealers.”)  And it will be costly for taxpayers.

Chasing after the thousands of legal marijuana growers, processers, and dispensaries and the tens of thousands of people they employ will cost DEA significant amounts of federal tax dollars. Add to that the costs US Attorneys will incur prosecuting those individuals and representing the government on appeals.

Fortunately for Democrats running in 2018, this isn’t just stupid policy, it is terrible politics. As Daily Kos explained:

If Democrats are smart, they will finally nationalize the pot issue, and its impact could spread through the entire map. The more young voters turn out, the bigger the Democratic landslide will be. And a great step toward making that happen would be full-throated Democratic support for full legalization at the federal level. Heck, leave it up to the states to decide for themselves! But the feds need to get out of the business of banning marijuana. And as far as political calculations go, there is little downside to Democrats. The public supports recreational legalization by 2-1 margins, and medicinal legalization by 9-1 margins or even higher.

In the real world–the one that no one in this administration inhabits– insisting that marijuana is illegal won’t stop its production and distribution. It will keep states from imposing sensible regulations that keep it safe and out of the hands of minors, and it will prevent states from generating substantial funds by taxing it.

Where’s that “deep state” when you need it?