The idea of a “Deep State” is a fantasy. Understanding why this fantasy is so destructive is important to sorting out Trump’s lies.

In Maine, those intimately familiar with state government will be familiar with a saying, “Commissioners come and go but middle management stays forever.” The phrase is meant to explain how day-to-day operational decisions may appear contrary to an administration’s policy decisions (and in some cases may really be in conflict).

Separation of appointed administration positions (commissioners, deputy commissioners, bureau directors and some others) from the managers and staff who carry out the day-to-day operation of programs evolved through our early days when “patronage” (giving a loyal supporter a job as a reward) was much more prevalent. We came to believe handing out the benefits of government through a non-objective, unaccountable process like patronage violated basic legal requirements like equal treatment. Additionally, poor service and arbitrary decision-making became more and more unacceptable.

The classified civil service that developed in response to the problems of patronage and other matters became responsible for day-to-day administration, leaving policymaking within appointed positions directly responsible to (hired and fired by) the administration.

A related result sometimes attributed to the “Deep State” is the ability of employees to speak truthfully about matters that might be inconvenient for a president or governor. Without the protection of a classified civil service, State Department employees or FBI agents might fear making decisions that might anger a president like Trump. Opening the Russia probe is an example of a decision that, were it made in a political context, might not get made at all, or might be made inappropriately.

 

Dean Crocker

Estero, Florida


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