President Trump, advisors such as Steve Bannon, and many of the electorate who support him, believe there is a “deep state” composed of the media, officials appointed by President Obama and allies of the former President who actively seek to undermine Mr. Trump and his administration. The President and his coterie did not invent either the term or the concept. But they have brought it from the fringe into the political mainstream and cleverly use it to garner more support from their base.
Democratic lawmakers, Mr. Obama, the media, and progressive activists say the President’s embrace of the deep state concept is a paranoid conspiracy and, thus, yet another example of his unfitness for the office of the President. They also actively resist any of the President’s proposals or people he nominates for appointive office.
The President’s belief in the deep state and the left’s actions and reactions create a feedback loop: Mr. Trump firmly thinks there is a plot to delegitimize his presidency; many on the left proudly proclaim that Mr. Trump is “Not My President” and call themselves the resistance; Mr. Trump points to those comments and Tweets as evidence that the deep state exists and is bent on his impeachment at worst, or political stalemate at best.
A History of the Deep State
The concept of a “deep state” dates back to the early 20th century Republican movement in Turkey. It comes from the Turkish term “derin devlet,” used to describe the groups that Turkish revolutionary and founding President of the Republic of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created to conduct clandestine acts – which included coups and assassination of opponents – designed first to overthrow the existing regime and then to protect the new secularist order. The term “deep state” has since come to mean an unelected shadow government that exists to keep itself in power or restore itself to leadership.
It is unclear when the idea of a deep state entered American consciousness. Some political scientists say it has always been with us, part of what Richard Hofstader dubbed “The Paranoid Style in American Politics.” Others say it emerged with wild conspiracy theories about the Trilateral Commission and the George W. Bush administration’s purported complicity in the September 11th terror attacks, supposedly to help Israel and provoke a Middle East war.
Whichever is correct, the deep state was popularized by former congressman Ron Paul, who in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, claimed there was a deep state of neoconservatives whose aim was to continue the policies of President George W. Bush.
The Deep State Has Deep Resonance
Today, the deep state is a favorite boogeyman of conspiratorial talk show hosts like Alex Jones. But it is not just confined to them. A recent poll showed that 48% of Americans believe in the existence of a deep state. Think about that for a second: Nearly half of all U.S. citizens actually think there is cabal hidden inside the federal government that seeks to undermine it from within. President Trump merely tamps into that belief system.
The President’s acceptance of a deep state is understandable. During the presidential primary campaign, a number of prominent Republicans — which included senior members of the Bush administration and former national security experts — aligned against Mr. Trump as part of the self-described “Never Trump” movement. At the Republican National Convention, “Never Trumpers” allied with Ted Cruz partisans even went so far as to seek to deny Trump the Party’s nomination on the convention floor. Add to that Hillary Clinton’s famous remarks that called Mr. Trump’s supporters “a basket of deplorables.”
Mr. Bannon, in a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) in February of this year, said a key item on the President’s agenda was the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The deep state and the administrative state are functional equivalents to the Party’s far-right Bannonite wing.
The President and Mr. Bannon believe that the news media assists the deep state through the promulgation of news reporting critical of Mr. Trump, all of which they dismiss out of hand as “fake news” designed to undermine Mr. Trump and ultimately destroy his administration. For them, there is no greater example of the alliance between the deep state and the elite media than the Russia investigation, which they see as nothing less than a seditious conspiracy to oust President Trump.
Progressive lawmakers, activists, and commentators do a lot to reinforce the President’s views. On November 10th – a mere two days after Mr. Trump was elected – there were protests in New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland and Portland (Oregon) in which protestors chanted and held signs which declared that Mr. Trump was “Not My President.” Within a week after the election, that theme went viral, as hashtags of “Not My President,” “Resist,” and “Member of The Resistance,” appeared on Twitter.
On January 20, 2017, just hours after Mr. Trump was sworn in, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Lindy West the title of which was “Not My President, Not Ever.” Even federal elected officials have joined the “Not My President” bandwagon. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) has declared that Mr. Trump “is not my president.”
Numerous articles, including one in a recent volume of City Journal, have noted that President Obama has essentially become a shadow President whose apparent aim is to bring into question the legitimacy of the Trump administration. Mr. Obama has aligned himself with “”the resistance,” and former Obama staffers have hosted what they themselves called a “Resistance School” for left-wing activists.
Undermine, Undermine, Undermine
The resistance extends to elected officials. It is abundantly clear that the Democratic strategy when it comes to the Trump administration is to thwart and undermine any legislative initiative executive order or statement. Witness the lack of votes for any piece of Republican legislation, and the stridently anti-Trump rhetoric of Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) – not to mention those of Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Bernie Sanders (I-VA), Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), big city mayors, and others.
The New York Times recently reported that liberal activists are in the midst of an active campaign to shut down the federal government unless protections for undocumented immigrants who arrived as minors are restored. Democratic leaders like Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi are less enthusiastic about such a move if, for no other reason, fear that it might blow back on Democrats. The Times noted that the rejection of the strategy by Mr. Schumer and Ms. Pelosi “has turned part of the liberal ‘resistance’ . . . against Democratic leaders.”
As Joshua Mitchell noted in a City Journal article: ”The most remarkable fact about the post-election months has been the absolute certainty of Democrats . . . that Donald Trump is not a legitimate president and there is a need for resistance.”
Role of Bureaucrats in the Resistance
The resistance has apparently spread to federal bureaucrats. In a report about the dual directors of the Consumer Financial Protection Board – Mick Mulvaney was appointed by President Trump while Leandra English was named deputy director and contends she became the director after the resignation of Richard Cordray – The Times said: “One small group [of agency employees] calls itself ‘Dumbledore’s Army,’ according to two of the people who were familiar with their discussions. The name is a reference to a secret resistance force in the ‘Harry Potter’ books.”
The Times further reported that some agency employees who are part of the secret resistance force now communicate mostly “in person or through encrypted messaging apps.” The use of encoded messages by federal workers may be potential violations of the Federal Records Act, which makes it illegal to “actual, impending, or threatened unlawful removal, defacing, alteration, corruption, deletion, erasure, or other destruction of records . . .”
The episode likely serves to reinforce the President’s firmly held belief that there is a secret cabal aimed at his administration. An essay titled “Trump and the ‘Deep State,’” published in the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs noted, “the White House is correct to perceive widespread resistance inside the government to many of its endeavors.”
The News Media and “Fake News”
A string of high-profile recent errors and subsequent corrections has contributed to President Trump’s faith in the reality – at least in his mind and those of his aides and supporters – of the deep state at work.
Three recent cases, two of which involved CNN — long been a chief target of the President’s claims of bias in the media — and the other of which involved ABC are but a demonstration. In June, CNN fired a trio of journalists after erroneously reported that Anthony Scaramucci, who served a scant ten days as Mr. Trump’s communications director, had ties to an investment firm linked to Russia. More recently, CNN incorrectly reported that an email Donald J. Trump, Jr. received offered advance access to Wikileaks documents hacked from the Democratic National Committee. But, the date on the email, which two sources confirmed to CNN as Sept. 4, 2016, before the documents were made public, turned out to be Sept. 14, 2016, after their public release. The mistake changed the character of the story entirely. It offered access to already public documents, and it’s not clear that the email’s sender was affiliated directly with Wikileaks at all.
Further compounding the news media’s troubles, ABC News recently suspended long-time investigative reporter Brian Ross after he inaccurately reported that Mr. Trump had instructed Michael T. Flynn during last year’s presidential campaign to contact Russian officials. As it turns out, this happened after the election.
President Trump predictably responded in Tweets and comments in which he denounced all three of the reports as “fake news” – Mr. Trump’s favorite epithet for most news that he deems false or likely to harm his presidency.
Mr. Trump entered office with a preconceived notion that a deep state exists. Very little that has transpired disabuses him of that. If anything it merely has reinforced his thoughts.
Mr. Trump has endured the Never Trump movement, which sought to deny him the nomination he had all but won; declarations by prominent Americans, elected officials and voters that he is not their president; a resistance effort which Mr. Trump and commentators clearly feel has been organized and kept alive by Mr. Obama and Democratic leaders; federal bureaucrats who call themselves a resistance army; and numerous news reports that make false allegations that damage his reputation and that of his family and core advisors.
Is it any wonder that, as Senator Lindsay Graham recently remarked, President Trump “believes passionately that the liberal and left and the media are out to destroy him?” Those who vehemently oppose Mr. Trump and his policies both in public and behind the scenes have no one to blame but themselves for the continuation of the allegations of a deep state.