Trump v. Deep State

Victor Davis Hanson:
Besides the Washington press and pundit corps, Donald Trump faced a third and more formidable opponent: the culture of permanent and senior employees of the federal and state governments, and the political appointees in Washington who revolve in and out from business, think tanks, lobbying firms, universities, and the media. Or as the legal scholar of the administrative state Philip Hamburger put it: “Although the United States remains a republic, administrative power creates within it a very different sort of government. The result is a state within the state — an administrative state within the Constitution’s United States.”
The insidious power of the unelected administrative state is easy to understand. After all, it governs the most powerful aspects of modern American life: taxes, surveillance, criminal-justice proceedings, national security, and regulation. The nightmares of any independent trucker or small-business person are being audited by the IRS, having communications surveilled, or being investigated by a government regulator or prosecutor.

The reach of the deep state ultimately is based on two premises. One, improper government-worker behavior is difficult to audit or at least to be held to account, given that it is protected by both union contracts and civil-service law. And, two, a government appointee or bureaucrat has the unlimited resources of the state behind him, while the targeted private citizen in a federal indictment, tax audit, or regulation violation not only does not, but is assumed also not to have the means even to provide an adequate legal defense.
Then the disrupter Trump crashed in.

While the deep state was far too vast to be stereotypically monolithic in the Obama and Trump years, it was a general rule that it had admired Obama, who grew it, and it now loathed Trump, who promised to shrink it. Moreover, Trump did not, like most incoming and outgoing politicians, praise in Pavlovian fashion the institutions of Washington. Nothing to Trump was sacred. During and after the campaign, he blasted the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, and Department of Justice as either incompetent or prejudicial.

When Trump cited the Department of Veterans Affairs, it was to side with its victims, not its administrators or venerable history. In Trump’s mind, the problem with federal agencies was not just that they overreached and were weaponized, but that their folds of bureaucracy led to incompetency.

Trump was not so much critical as ignorant of the deep state’s rules and its supposed sterling record of stable governance. Trump proved willing to fire lifelong public servants. He ignored sober and judicious advice from Washington “wise men.” He appointed “crazy” outsiders skeptical of establishment institutions. He purged high government of its progressive activists. And he embraced deep-state heresies and blasphemies such as considering tariffs, questioning NATO, doubting the efficacy of NAFTA, whining about federal judges, and jawboning interest rates. He also left vacant key offices on the theory that one less deep-state voice was one less critic, and one less obstacle to undoing the Obama record.
An administrative state, swamp, deep state, call it what you wish, was wrong about Trump’s nomination, his election, and his governance. It was right only in its warnings that he could be crude and profane, with a lurid past and an ethical necropolis of skeletons in his closet — a fact long ago factored and baked into his supporters’ votes.

At each stage, the erroneous predictions of the deep state prompted ever greater animus at a target that it could not quite understand, much less derail, and so far has not been able to destroy. By autumn 2018, the repetitive nightly predictions of cable-news pundits that the latest presidential controversy was a “bombshell,” or marked a “turning point,” or offered proof that “the walls were closing in,” or ensured that “impeachment was looming on the horizon,” had amounted to little more than monotonous and scripted groupthink.

Never before in the history of the presidency had a commander in chief earned the antipathy of the vast majority of the media, much of the career establishments of both political parties, the majority of the holders of the nation’s accumulated personal wealth, and the permanent federal bureaucracy.

And lived to tell the tale.
There is more.

 The Deep State had never had to deal with a boss who was not a politician.  Trump was a businessman who was used to dealing with public officials as either adversaries or allies and was capable of being successful with both. 

While there has been no ceasefire in the Deep State attacks on Trump, he has frustrated them beyond anything they have ever encountered.  In the process of ignoring their advice and their attacks he has produced the best economy in decades and has similarly shaken up world leaders who have a more globalist view. 

Sometimes he is like the innocent child who blurts out correctly that the King has on no clothes.  He is not fooled by adversaries like Iran or North Korea.  He has handled both differently but his policies look much smarter than the old Deep State approach.


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