It is with a healthy mindfulness of the need for wisdom and humility in the face of complex discourse that we introduce the author’s personal opinion of the notion of a so-called “deep state” in American politics. It is not the author’s intent to investigate matters outside his understanding, nor to imply disrespect towards different opinions on this highly contentious topic. Rather, we seek to explore one man’s personal opinion in the context of his professional experience as an intelligence officer — an opinion framed in this piece of broad political philosophy.
The “deep state” theory posits that a shadowy association of unnamed government officials, private sector magnates, and faceless movements are secretly operating to undermine President Trump and that the President alone stands against the forces of evil (e.g. “Radical Left” and Antifa) that seek to destroy this nation.
This theory and its narrative — while coherent amidst a confusing pandemic response, aggressive social justice discourse, fears of civil liberty violations due to contact tracing, and other issues — cannot and should not be accepted at face value. Proponents of the deep state theory carry the burden of proving their case beyond a reasonable doubt, and in the author’s opinion, have yet to deliver any “actionable intelligence.”
Rather, the deep state theory is a polarizing political tactic that poses a threat to U.S. national security because it sacrifices necessary public trust in government for short-term partisan gain.
For the readers familiar with political philosopher John Locke’s social contract theory, it is generally found that individuals tacitly or explicitly surrender some of their freedoms and submit to the authority of government in exchange for the protection of their remaining rights. Indeed, it was such sentiment that helped establish the grounds for a colonial revolt against British tyranny in the American revolution.
The deep state theory insidiously dismantles this social contract from within by using the natural fear of authoritarian rule as a threat to strip citizens of fundamental rights, thereby undermining the required trust upon which the government interacts with its citizens (We are thus reminded of the intent of this piece, which is to seek healthy accountability for publicly elected officials, thereby ensuring the integrity of the social contract).
The use of fear to motivate a populace notwithstanding, it also appears that claims of a deep state within the American government are far too politically convenient. Note that it is not those who seek power that make such claims, but rather those who seek to maintain it.
The origins of the deep state theory are not clear. Yet, most sentiment entered American political discourse largely from bipartisan findings that Russian active measures did in fact influence the 2016 election and that Russia perceived it would benefit more from a Trump presidency. When Mr. Trump refers to such facts as a “hoax,” it dilutes the truth and complicates the necessary understanding of critical national security matters. It is also dangerous because it further solidifies the coherency of the deep state narrative while leaving no room for dissent or discussion.
It must be stated that Russian election interference does not mean that Russia determined the outcome of the U.S. Presidential race, nor does it diminish any rightful electoral gains earned by the Trump campaign resulting in his election. This instance simply highlights foreign efforts to influence a politically sacred process, and while concerning, is simply something we must acknowledge as fact, hold, and continue to ponder as it is absorbed into the American sentience.
It is thus harmful when a sitting president introduces a conspiratorial theory that directly contradicts the findings of a professional government arm (the U.S. Intelligence Community) designed to do one thing: seek the truth and inform policymaking on behalf of the Republic it represents and has a vested interest in protecting (The author is, of course, operating under the premise that the Intelligence Community functions as it is designed and as the author has personally experienced over the course of his career).
Furthermore, this is a system that has continued to do its job despite weathering several attacks by Mr. Trump, which speaks to the professional and non-partisan ideals towards which the Intelligence Community strives. One such example is the CIA’s standing directive to share counter-terrorism intelligence with Russia — a naive one-way relationship that mostly benefits Russia. Indeed, the Agency’s former chief of clandestine operations for Europe and Eurasia described internal Agency sentiment towards the relationship as such, “Leadership was well aware of the unanimity in view that this [intel sharing] was a waste of time… but it doesn’t matter, because it’s [administration] policy. We had to still go through with it.”
Such accounts contrast sharply with the deep state narrative that suggests a cabal of civil servants actively work to undermine the president and his policies. For an additional litmus test of the deep state theory, one only need postulate on the growing number of public servants, military leaders, and others that have been conveniently dismissed or minimized in an effort to support Mr. Trump’s narrative. Here are just two examples of what such demeaning language looks like:
LTC Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine whistleblower, spent eight years as an infantry officer, seven years as a foreign area officer, five years on the Joint Staff, and nearly two years at the White House working on national security. During a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany referred to LTC Vindman as a “former junior employee.” Ms. McEnany has been in her present role for fewer than 100 days.
Former SECDEF Jim Mattis spent 44 years in the Marine Corps, where he commanded forces in the Persian Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan, and the Iraq war. He served under Presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. After accusing President Trump of dividing the American people, Trump, who had received five military draft deferments, rebuked Mattis as “the world’s most overrated general” whose primary strength “was not military, but rather personal public relations,” and whose leadership style — or much else about him — he did not like.
Such treatment of public servants does not benefit anyone except those whose narrative benefits such detraction; namely, those who fear the loss of power and must minimize or dismiss natural criticism or processes.
Now, do “deep states” exist elsewhere? Most certainly. Two relevant examples are the Taliban-controlled shadow governments in Afghanistan and the true cabal of security services and powerful oligarchs in post-Soviet Russia. However, when claims of a U.S. deep state are examined within the current political context, they demand, at least, healthy skepticism and debate.
We must observe that conspiracies exist because they are just enough within the realm of plausibility that they blur reality. It is thus that a grounding force — typically the Constitution — is used to offer a baseline from which to gauge proceedings.
Therefore, it is the author’s counsel to instead embrace a policy of conditional trust in government institutions. Rather than fear them, we should trust that the majority of public servants are, in fact, serving in order to benefit the state to some measure. We should trust that core values, such as integrity and service, are present within systems of government. We should believe that the silent majority of well-educated, reasonable Americans that comprise the various bureaucracies do, in fact, care about the Constitution and what it represents. We should choose not to disregard healthy discourse and opposing thought simply because it does not fit our worldview. We should understand that diversity in thought is, in fact, beneficial. We should trust that the government will not unlawfully infringe on fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution and that there are accountability mechanisms to ensure this. Finally, we should trust that politics and the American government comprise a complex yet robust system that will uphold its end of the social contract with its citizens as it has done thus far.
The virtue lies in the mean — Aristotle
This perspective offers healthy skepticism of the politically and temporally convenient argument offered by the incumbent president — an argument based on the inconvenient and unfortunate actions of a foreign power to affect his ascendancy. The author applies the same treatment to all government officials: trust but verify. Apply rigorous critical thought that leaves room for discourse while maintaining accountability.
As Aristotle identified, seeking the “mean” in political discourse is an individual, as well as national, responsibility. Let us embrace, respectfully, different thoughts in order to reach a semblance of understanding — an understanding that contributes to our national security and our state’s ability to perform its proper function.
Thanks for listening.