Donald Trump has been waging a war on what he calls the deep state for a couple of years now. Trump seems to think that there is some kind of a conspiracy deeply embedded in the federal government that has been secretly persecuting him ever since he took office.
In the real world Trump’s deep state is actually the professional civil service which is at the heart of the American government and which is one of the very best things about America. And he is right, they are his enemy.
Explanations of Trump’s weird fixation on “the deep state” run the gamut from a paranoid Trump believing there actually is some kind of secret cabal embedded in American government that is conspiring against him and trying to foil him at every step, to the idea that Trump is cleverly making use of a conspiracy theory popular with his base to demonize and eventually destroy the professional civil service.
In my opinion it is the latter. I think this is a real attempt by Trump to gut everything which is the best in American government and which is also deeply dedicated to minimizing everything Trump does. And Trump knows exactly who his real enemy is. It is professional civil service that is actually one of the best parts of our government.
In a recent article in the New York Times about Trump’s obsession with a deep state cabal out to get him, some of the civil service employees who have have recently testified in the ongoing impeachment proceedings see themselves as not part of any cabal but merely public servants:
“The witnesses heading to Capitol Hill do not consider themselves part of any nefarious deep state, but simply public servants who have loyally worked for administrations of both parties only to be denigrated, sidelined or forced out of jobs by a president who marinates in suspicion and conspiracy theories.”
In the real world, the career civil service is the professional heart and soul of American government. Without the professional civil service, American government is only biased politicians who mostly could care less about America or the American people.
And Trump is doing his best to destroy the civil service. The same Times article says that, “In an interview with his former aide Sebastian Gorka, conducted before the impeachment conflict but published in The Daily Caller this month, Mr. Trump described his war with the deep state as fundamental to his presidency. “If it all works out, I will consider it one of the greatest things I’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “I think with the destruction of the deep state, certainly I’ve done big damage,” he added. “They’ve come after me in so many different ways; it’s been such a disgrace. But I think it’ll be one of my great achievements.””
To understand what is going on here, to understand the magnitude of what Trump is attempting, I think it is important to understand just what a precious thing our civil service that Trump is trying to destroy is.
I good place to begin understanding the core of the US professionals who make up the civil service is Michael Lewis’ most recent book The Fifth Risk. Lewis says that the civil service is, among other things, the professionals who try to protect America and the American people from huge risks and dangers that are not always obvious.
And it is just these professionals who have always seen Trump himself as a huge risk to America and the American people and have tried to do their job of protecting the American people.
So it is not surprising that Trump is trying to transform the career, civil service, professionals into a deep conspiracy of dangerous and evil secret agents who are against him, the real American who is trying to trying to “Make America Great Again.” In my opinion this ranks as perhaps the most dangerous thing Trump is doing. If he succeeds in demonizing the career, civil service professionals, the heart and soul of American government will be negated.
And unfortunately, the Trump base is going to buy Trump’s story of the secret conspiracy in government which is trying to destroy the “Real American”, Donald Trump. They will never understand that Trump’s “deep state” are actually the intelligent, professional civil service core of the American government who have been protecting them for years from all sorts of difficult to understand risks.”
Michael Lewis does a very nice job of describing the professionals of the American Civil Service in his book The Fifth Risk.
The main theme of Lewis’ book is that the basic role of government is to protect the people. The people need protecting against all sorts of dangers that the private sector is not interested in doing, or cannot do, or where there is not enough profit to interest them.
As Lewis says, “There are all kinds of risks that the people need to be protected against beginning with nuclear accidents, nuclear war, rogue governments, sabotage of things like our electrical system or our nuclear system, or environmental degradation or past environmental disasters that need cleaning up or global warming. One main risk is the town in Oregon where the plutonium for the original atomic bomb was made. There are huge amounts of leftover radioactive material left here.”
The fifth risk, says Lewis, are those kinds of risks which are not very obvious and highly complex but which are also quite likely to happen and which can have catastrophic consequences.
And Trump, says Lewis, is trying to undo all of the protection that the US government and particularly the department of energy has been putting in place for the last many years. Trump, he says, is the ultimate advocate of ignorance and shortcuts and negligence. Trump is the exact antithesis of what the government is supposed to be doing. He has dismantled the department of energy, the homeland security agency, the environmental protection agency.
In the beginning of the book Lewis introduces a guy named Max Stier. Stier explains the essence of Lewis’s idea:
According to Lewis, Stier often said “that the federal government provided services that the private sector couldn’t or wouldn’t. For example, medical care for veterans, air traffic control, national highways, food safety guidelines. He’d explain that the federal government was an engine of opportunity. Government often made millions of American children’s lives easier. Basic nutrition supplied by the Government has helped thousands of children.
When all else failed, he would explain the many places the U.S. government stood between Americans and the things that might kill them. “The basic role of government is to keep us safe,” he’d say. The United States government employed two million people, 70 percent of them one way or another in national security. It managed a portfolio of risks that no private person, or corporation, was able to manage.
Some of the risks were easy to imagine: a financial crisis, a hurricane, a terrorist attack. But most weren’t. For example, some prescription drug might prove to be both so addictive and so accessible that each year it kills many Americans, more Americans than were killed in action by the peak of the Vietnam War. This kind of risk was not so easy to imagine. Many of the risks that fell into the government’s lap felt so remote as to be unreal. Like a cyberattack that left half the country without electricity. Or some airborne virus that wiped out millions. Or economic inequality that reached the point where it triggered a violent revolution. Or maybe the least visible risks were of things not happening, that with better government, might have happened. A cure for cancer, for instance.”
Lewis’ book is about the important things our government does for us. But it is about Trump. Trump, he says, is the the greatest risk we are now facing.
As usual I include in this article images of some of the most beautiful places in America as a reminder of what we have to lose if we make the wrong choices for our future.
Here are more sources for reading about this very dangerous attempt of Donald Trump to destroy some of the most precious and important parts of the American government.
Lewis, Michael. The Fifth Risk . W. W. Norton & Company.
From the New York Times: Trump’s War on the ‘Deep State’ Turns Against Him