Whether we like the Deep State or not, it’s got a job to do

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The Deep State is Trump's public enemy number one. But doesn't that make it a good thing?

Batman and the Joker, Captain America and Red Skull, Spider-Man and Green Goblin; you can’t be a superhero unless you face a super-villain archenemy. Thanks to his heralds Steve Bannon and Sean Hannity, The Incredible Donald or Lord Trumpadoro, or whatever he ends up calling himself, possesses a perfectly nefarious adversary: the Deep State.

A term long in use but only lately in vogue, the Deep State is a secret alliance of judges, bureaucrats and officials who use their positions to thwart ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ politicians. Rulers hate ‘the Imperium’ for blocking them, but love it for providing a convenient excuse when things go south.

‘Intimating treason, Hannity wants to start locking people up’

But in the hands of Bannon and Hannity, the Deep State is something far more sinister. ‘Whoever is leaking… to the media, they need to be arrested, they need to be prosecuted,’ said Hannity last year. ‘Every one of them needs to be put in jail. These people have become a clear and present danger to this country…’ Now there’s a phrase that will cause certain ears to perk up: ‘Clear and present danger’ is the threshold adopted by the Supreme Court beyond which limits can be placed on the First Amendment freedoms of speech, press and assembly. Intimating treason, Hannity wants to start locking people up.

With this Deep State gimmick, Trump’s loyalists are dusting off the old ploy of identifying a secret enemy that the righteous can oppose. The traditional targets of this stratagem are blacks, Jews and immigrants. Joseph McCarthy added Communists to the ‘greatest hits’ list, too. The fact that some Communist spies had attained high posts in government doesn’t exonerate him; McCarthy spread panic to gain power, just as Deep Statesters are doing. A congresswoman named Claudia Tenney reached a new low earlier this year when she was asked about Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson’s purchase of a $31,000 conference table. Tenney defended Carson, and  instead blamed ‘somebody in the Deep State’ for the overpriced furniture.

Though ridiculous, the campaign of blame is working… to a degree. A poll taken in April last year showed that 48 per cent of respondents believe in a Deep State. A substantial number – 35 per cent – dismiss the idea, with the rest unsure. But of the 48 per cent who see a conspiracy at work, only 58 per cent think it’s a major problem, which nets out to just 28 per cent who both say there is a Deep State and are worried about it.

‘The Deep State ends up supporting the side of democracy’

Why is the majority unperturbed? First, anybody who has had to deal with government bureaucracy knows that its workers are sluggish, wise in the knowledge that regardless of how much one cares, that Old Man River of paper just keeps rolling along.

More importantly, experience teaches us that while the Deep State often frustrates the interests of the White House, it ends up supporting the side of democracy.

After all, it was Daniel Ellsberg, a little-known  analyst working for the Defence Department, who risked his career by leaking the Pentagon Papers and exposing the lies five Presidents told about Vietnam.  It was a deputy director of the FBI named Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat) who guided Woodward and Bernstein through Richard Nixon’s Watergate crimes. More recently, an FBI agent named Coleen Rowley uncovered the bureau’s catastrophic failure to follow up on leads agents had developed about Zacarias Moussaoui, a man later implicated in the 9/11 hijacking plot.

No doubt the Deep State is a pain in any president’s ass, and often people over-react. But that’s a small price to pay for the assurance that when a president fails to uphold the Constitution, somebody else is willing to step up.

Jamie Malanowski is a former senior editor of US Esquire