It is necessary to address the severely flawed arguments made by Cesare Dunker in “Are Trump Voters Right To Fear The Authoritarian Deep State?”. This piece, published recently in the Beaver, argued that that the notorious New York Times op-ed “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration,” which was ostensibly written by a White House senior official, was proof of a deep state conspiracy to undermine Donald Trump. In reality, that is simply not the case.
The “deep state”- a rhetorical boogeyman that Trump uses to rev up his far-right base by gaslighting and vindicating their conspiratorial sentiments and deeply held suspicion of elites and government institutions–is a supposed network of malicious, elitist civil servants secretly pulling the strings of the government’s public figureheads and steering the mechanisms of our institutions. This Humphrey from the TV show “Yes, Minister,” which is an apt comparison primarily because both Humphrey and the deep state are completely fictional.
Mr. Dunker’s piece fails to disprove that fact. For starters, his argument that the op-ed is evidence of a bureaucratic conspiracy among civil servants is built on a fundamentally false foundation. He asserts that “the anonymous writer seems to identify as” a part of a group of “influential decision-making bodies within the government who are relatively permanent and whose policies and long-term plans are unaffected by changing administrations.” Again, that is not the case.
Mr. Dunker’s description applies to civil servants, who are hired from within the government without any formal nomination to assist the operations of government departments and agencies. Those employees are meant to be non-political and often remain in their posts long after the administration that hired them is out of office. None of them would be considered “senior officials,” which is the label given to the op-ed writer by the New York Times in place of his name or official title.
Senior officials can be White House staffers, like White House Communications Director Bill Shine, cabinet members like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis or Deputy Education Secretary Mick Zais, or cabinet staff like, say, the Treasury Secretary’s chief-of-staff. Any of those appointees could be the anonymous op-ed writer. They are political hires and are very unlikely to remain in their posts, or any government posts, when a new party takes power.
Therefore it is not a cabal of unfireable, “permanent” government employees making up the op-ed writer’s internal resistance, but Trump’s own hires. This makes sense, as the writer identifies as a rock-ribbed conservative who is sympathetic many of Trump’s policies but is simply dissatisfied with his temperament and fitness for office. While Mr. Dunker acknowledges that fact, he wrongly minimizes and dismisses it.
After arguing that Trump has been unflinchingly devoted to conservative Republicanism, Mr. Dunker asserts “the actual point of divergence between the President and mainstream Republicans [in the resistance] is his outspoken behavior on Twitter.” Putting aside the fact that, in enacting tariffs, fighting trade deals, and maligning and marginalizing the free press, Trump has flown in the face of conservative doctrine, it must be noted that he has weaved a massive and diverse tapestry of lunacy and destruction, far beyond tweets, for this resistance to oppose.
The world has witnessed, in not only tweets, but public events and speeches, that Trump is a leader who could very well be unfit to do his job let alone work in his own best interest. For one, he yielded to hostile Russian President Vladimir Putin, who annexed Crimea and interfered in the 2016 US Presidential election, in Helsinki. Additionally, journalists and writers looking at the Trump administration up close have almost universally concluded that Trump lacks intellectual curiosity or policy knowledge, emotional fitness, or even the ability to remain focused and present for more than a brief period. If this is truly the case, folks like this anonymous op-ed writer would be expected to oppose his whims.
Political appointees are not bound to blindly obey their superiors unquestioningly, as civil servants must. It’s easy to take the commonly uttered phrase “serving at the pleasure of the President” too literally. Some, like Jeff Sessions, take on that role willingly. But, as evidenced by this op-ed, others do not.
There is precedent for dissenting elements operating in the White House. Bill Clinton was famous for making sure that he had both affirming and dissenting voices from his staff in every discussion. They dissent because it’s their job to push the President in the right direction. This is what the op-ed author, who said that he and his comrades “want the administration to succeed,” is doing. Sometimes serving the President means going against them when they are hellbent on undermining their own interests, whether through intention, folly or instability.
There is no deep state conspiracy. When civil servants have fundamental problems with Trump or his appointees, they often resign as many of the disgruntled employees in the EPA, Housing and Urban Development and Justice Departments have. Others stay and faithfully perform their duties, like the Justice Department lawyer who was instrumental in codifying marriage equality under Obama before being forced to defend Trump’s controversial middle east travel ban. But there is no evidence of these employees banding together to undermine the President, and this op-ed, written by a non-civil servant, doesn’t change that fact.