The ‘Deep State’ ca­nard spreads

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - Jonah Goldberg

The deep state is the right’s new bo­gey­man.

I’d wa­ger that un­til fairly re­cently, few peo­ple had ever heard the phrase. I’d also bet that roughly 99 per­cent of those who fling the term around have no idea that it’s bor­rowed from Turk­ish pol­i­tics.

The idea of a deep state, or “state within a state,” is that there are un­demo­cratic forces within the per­ma­nent bu­reau­cracy, the mil­i­tary, and the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices who pur­sue their own in­ter­ests rather than those of the peo­ple or the agenda that vot­ers de­sire.

De­pend­ing on the coun­try in ques­tion, deep states are not only real, they are some­times as de­vi­ous as peo­ple fear. At var­i­ous times in the his­tory of the Soviet Union, the se­cret po­lice ran the govern­ment and the Com­mu­nist party for its own ben­e­fit.

In the demo­cratic West, the civil ser­vice and other bu­reau­cratic in­sti­tu­tions of­ten ac­cu­mu­late enough power and ar­ro­gance that they see them­selves as im­mune to the de­sires of vot­ers or politi­cians. Prior to a few years ago, some peo­ple would call this sort of thing the “deep state,” and de­pend­ing on the con­text, that was fine.

But now it’s be­come a par­ti­san talk­ing point in de­fense of almost ev­ery­thing Pres­i­dent Trump does. It’s a war­rant for wide­spread para­noia and hys­te­ria. Peo­ple talk as if we live in a Ja­son Bourne or James Bond movie, with se­cret deep state or­ga­ni­za­tions plot­ting to over­throw the govern­ment or some­thing.

Im­peach­ment, we’re told almost ev­ery day, is a “deep state coup.” When the Turk­ish mil­i­tary launched a “deep state coup,” it launched an ac­tual, you know, “coup” — which the dic­tionary still de­fines as an ex­trale­gal vi­o­lent over­throw of a govern­ment.

The sort of coup that some on the right are talk­ing about — which, if suc­cess­ful, would re­sult in the vice pres­i­dent law­fully be­com­ing pres­i­dent and Trump’s Cabi­net stay­ing in place — isn’t a coup. It’s not par­tic­u­larly deep state-ish ei­ther, given that the peo­ple lead­ing it are demo­crat­i­cally elected leg­is­la­tors pub­licly fol­low­ing not just the rules but also the wishes of the peo­ple who elected them. (You can be sure that if Demo­cratic vot­ers weren’t be­hind the ef­fort, peo­ple such as Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Adam Schiff wouldn’t be push­ing im­peach­ment.)

In fair­ness, im­peach­ment arouses par­ti­san ex­cess, and it’s no sur­prise when par­ti­san rhetoric gets heated. Democrats called the ef­fort to im­peach Bill Clin­ton a coup. And they were wrong, too.

The prob­lem is that this deep state con­ta­gion has spread far out­side of im­peach­ment.

“Just this week, I stuck up for three great war­riors against the Deep State,” Trump de­clared Tues­day night at a rally in Florida.

The crowd loved it, of course. But think about what Trump is say­ing. The three war­riors Trump was re­fer­ring to were three men charged with com­mit­ting war crimes. He par­doned all three. One hadn’t even re­ceived a trial yet. Many great war­riors put their ca­reers in peril to tes­tify against the two other men.

Rea­son­able peo­ple can dis­agree on the specifics of the acts, but mil­i­tary law ex­perts are uni­formly aghast at Trump’s de­ci­sion. Ac­cord­ing to Mil­i­, Trump’s move has “blown a hole in the mil­i­tary jus­tice system and will make it harder to pros­e­cute fu­ture war crimes, mil­i­tary law ex­perts say.”

What­ever you think of that, the idea that the mil­i­tary jus­tice system is part of the deep state be­cause it sought to en­force pro­hi­bi­tions against war crimes is grotesque. Mil­i­tary lead­er­ship wasn’t be­hav­ing like a bunch of Turk­ish gen­er­als con­spir­ing against the elected govern­ment for their own self­ish ends.

If any­thing, the self­ish­ness runs the other way. The pres­i­dent now wants to cam­paign with the “three war­riors” for po­lit­i­cal ad­van­tage.

In­deed, the im­peach­ment wit­nesses de­famed as deep state op­er­a­tives by Trump and his de­fend­ers tes­ti­fied that the pres­i­dent was or­ches­trat­ing an ef­fort in Ukraine for his own self-in­ter­est, not the na­tional in­ter­est. These peo­ple weren’t se­cretly shout­ing “Hail Hy­dra!”; they were do­ing what they thought the law and pa­tri­otic duty re­quired.

Deep staters are now those who fol­low the rules in ways in­con­ve­nient to Trump’s per­sonal de­sires or po­lit­i­cal am­bi­tions. It would be too con­fus­ing to say that Trump is the real deep state op­er­a­tive here since he was law­fully elected.

But he does seem to ad­here to a view of the state most fa­mously ar­tic­u­lated by Louis XIV: L’état, c’est moi (I am the state). And any ob­sta­cle to his un­fet­tered rule is now the deep state and by ex­ten­sion il­le­git­i­mate.

Jonah Goldberg holds the As­ness Chair in Ap­plied Lib­erty at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute and is a colum­nist for the Los Angeles Times.

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