The Deep State Club

The “Deep State” is the clandestine government, the real government, made up of hidden or covert networks of power operating independently of a nation’s political leadership, in pursuit of their own agenda and goals. These are the people who really run things. No one’s vote really matters – or these are the apolitical bureaucrats who keep everything running smoothly because they know how things work and make sure things do work. They’re not evil. They’re the worker bees. They assure continuity and stability. The bills get paid. Laws are enforced. Treaty obligations are met. The government meets all of its obligations. The boring stuff gets done. That’s about it – but Donald Trump sees the FBI and CIA and NSA and all the rest as the “Deep State” that’s out to get him – those out to run things their way, not his. That angers him. That angers his base. Everyone else sees something else – quite ordinary people who know how the government works keeping the government working. That’s just basic maintenance. Or it’s a vast conspiracy. Who is to say?

The issue never came up before the Trump presidency. There’s a reason for that. Donald Trump had never held political office before. His grasp of how our government (or any government) works was a few steps below rudimentary. Of course he sees a vast conspiracy. Others see what the government does is kind of boring, but necessary, and usually useful. A national air-traffic control system is useful, and the FBI does do the tedious work of tracking down and grabbing the bad guys, and the CIA and NSA keep an eye on what’s really going on in the world. No one is out to “get” Donald Trump – but there are those who don’t believe that at all. There must be a Deep State. Why else is Donald Trump having so much trouble? It can’t be him. It’s them.

Of course the Deep State has a club:

The Alfalfa Club is a social club that exists only to hold an annual black tie banquet on the last Saturday of January at the Capital Hilton in Washington D.C., with an after-party at a local restaurant. The banquet, which lasts four hours, features music by the United States Marine Band as well as a political roast. There are approximately 200 members of the club, all of them influential politicians and business executives. The club has an invitation system; members are required to be invited to join. Several Presidents of the United States have been members of the club. The press is not allowed to attend the banquet.

This is for the Deep State only:

If in attendance, the President of the United States is usually asked to deliver remarks at the banquet. President George W. Bush spoke at the banquet each year of his presidency; the Alfalfa Club was one of only three clubs that his father, George H. W. Bush, was a member of as president. President Obama attended and spoke at the banquet in 2009 and in 2012.

And there’s this bit of trivia:

Obama spoke at the club’s annual dinner, saying, “This dinner began almost one hundred years ago as a way to celebrate the birthday of General Robert E. Lee. If he were here with us tonight, the General would be 202 years old – and very confused.”

Times change of course – Bill Clinton got the club to admit women – but Donald Trump knows a Deep State club when he sees one:

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis received a standing ovation Saturday at the annual black-tie Alfalfa Club dinner after delivering a speech in which he honored the troops and talked about the importance of the US’ standing abroad, according to a source with knowledge of the event.

For the third year running, President Donald Trump skipped the annual event – but this year, so did the vice president as well as Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen as well as White House advisers Ivanka Trump and Kushner were all on the seating chart for the head table but didn’t show at the event, attended by a who’s who of prominent political and business leaders, according to the source.

They knew what was coming this year. Mattis quit the administration in December and pointedly criticized the President in his resignation letter, and he got that standing ovation, from the rest of the Deep State there:

The dinner was attended by major business figures including Jeff Bezos, Michael Bloomberg, Warren Buffett, Tim Cook, Bill Gates and Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, which owns CNN parent company Warner Media.

Political figures at the dinner included former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell and Rex Tillerson.

These may be the people who really run the world, so someone from the administration had to show up, for show:

Among those at the head table currently in the Trump administration were Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker. They sat alongside former administration officials Tillerson, Mattis and former White House chief of staff John Kelly – all of whom were ousted by Trump in the past year.

This was awkward, but that’s okay. Trump has “the people” on his side, but Sunday morning follows Saturday night:

The government shutdown that just ended has deepened Americans’ discontent with the state of the nation – and they place the blame primarily on President Donald Trump, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday showed.

The poll’s results showed that by 63 percent to 28 percent, a margin greater than two to one, Americans believe the country is “off on the wrong track” rather than “headed in the right direction.” That’s significantly worse than the 56 percent to 33 percent finding from the December NBC/WSJ poll, taken before the shutdown.

And by 50 percent to 37 percent, Americans blame Trump, rather than Democrats in Congress, for the debacle.

These people prefer that the government keeps humming along, and they’re not into big changes:

Pluralities disapprove the president’s handling of border security and immigration issues, and say would-be immigrants across the southern border with Mexico would strengthen rather than weaken America. A 52 percent majority opposes construction of a wall or fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, while 45 percent favor it.

And it seems they’d prefer a boring but basically competent president, not this one:

Just one-third of Americans express confidence that Trump has the right goals and policies; an even lower proportion, 28 percent, express confidence that he has the right personal characteristics to be president…

By 47 percent to 36 percent, Americans rate Trump negatively rather than positively for “being a good negotiator,” the characteristic he has long claimed as his signature quality. He fares even worse on “being steady and reliable” (53 percent negative, 32 percent positive), “being knowledgeable and experienced enough” (54 percent negative, 32 percent positive), “being honest and trustworthy” (58 percent negative, 28 percent positive) and “having high personal and ethical standards” (58 percent negative, 24 percent positive).

But other than that he’s just fine. His overall approval rating held steady – low, but steady.

He plans to fix that:

President Trump is again considering invoking emergency powers to build his proposed wall on the U.S.-Mexico border without congressional approval, roiling the latest bipartisan negotiations over immigration with the renewed threat of unilateral executive action and further dividing Republicans already reeling from the fallout of the shutdown.

“The president’s commitment is to defend the nation, and he will do it either with or without Congress,” acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Sunday.

The partial shutdown, which was the longest in U.S. history, ended Friday with Trump agreeing to temporarily reopen the government without any money for a wall.

He hated that, and now he sees Congress thwarting him and part of the Deep State too, opposing the will of the people or some such thing, and he will defeat the Deep State:

One White House official described Trump’s decision to reopen the government as “clearing the deck” for executive action rather than a retreat. And a longtime confidant said Trump has grown increasingly frustrated by news coverage of his concession to Democrats and has been encouraged by conservative allies to escalate the fight.

A bipartisan, bicameral congressional committee has been charged with brokering an agreement on border security as part of a deal to keep the government open past Feb. 15, and a stalemate could trigger another shutdown.

He wants another shutdown:

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Trump said he thinks the committee’s chances of success are “less than 50-50,” although there are “a lot of very good people” on it.

He also said that another shutdown is “certainly an option” and voiced doubt that he would back any deal with less than $5.7 billion in border wall funding.

In short, he will get his way or he’ll make life miserable for millions of Americans, perhaps for months this time, or years, until he gets what he wants, and he’ll ruin the economy if it comes to that – or he’ll just bypass Congress and the rest of the Deep State and do what he wants. He’ll say this is an emergency and that will be that, and that scares a few Republicans:

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) called the prospect of a national-emergency declaration a “terrible idea,” reflecting widespread conservative unease about using executive powers in sweeping ways to achieve political ends, a tactic they have long criticized Democratic presidents of employing.

“It’s just not a good precedent to set in terms of action. It doesn’t mean that I don’t want border security. I do. I just think that’s the wrong way to achieve it,” Rubio said on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) agreed. “I happen to agree with the president on barriers at the border and border security as an important first step, but there might be a future president that I don’t agree with that thinks something else is an emergency,” Blunt said on Fox News Sunday, adding that he hopes “the president doesn’t have to go there.”

Not everyone shares that view:

Other Republicans said the GOP appetite for using emergency powers was stronger than the remarks of lawmakers on television suggested, because of the expectation that the party’s base would applaud Trump for being bold.

“He’s certainly going to have Democratic opposition for partisan reasons and Republicans opposed based on the precedent it sets,” former White House legislative director Marc Short said in an interview. “But there is one thing some Republicans say to the media, and then there is what they say quietly to each other when the camera is not on: ‘I sure wish he’d do it.'”

They hate the Deep State too, so this is possible:

Mulvaney said that if the legislation Congress sends to the president’s desk is unsatisfactory, Trump could veto it.

“Yeah, I think he actually is,” Mulvaney said on CBS’s Face the Nation when asked whether Trump is prepared to bring about a shutdown next month.

Of course he is:

Trump argued on Sunday that illegal immigration was costing the country tens of billions of dollars a month, although it was not clear on what data he was basing his estimate.

“We are not even into February and the cost of illegal immigration so far this year is $18,959,495,168” he tweeted. “Cost Friday was $603,331,392.”

Trump has previously claimed that the cost of illegal immigration is more than $200 billion a year, without providing any evidence.

About 11 million people are estimated to be living in the United States without documentation. But on Sunday, Trump challenged that number, tweeting that “there are at least 25,772,342 illegal aliens, not the 11,000,000 that have been reported for years, in our Country. So ridiculous! DHS”

Asked on Face the Nation about that number, Mulvaney said he did not know where Trump was getting his information.

But it was not from the DHS folks – the Deep State – because they cannot be trusted.

Something odd is going on here, and E. J. Dionne suggests this:

What we’re actually seeing is a shift in the intellectual energy of American politics. This is the lesson of the disarray in the Republican Party, and the ultimate capitulation of President Trump in the shutdown fight he initiated. Trump’s decision to close the government in the vain pursuit of an essentially meaningless goal showed a party and ideological movement lost in the wilderness.

And the concept of the Deep State, which might be called Conspiracy Populism, was just waiting there for Donald Trump to come along:

Trump’s rise itself was a symptom of this. Traditional conservative nostrums of tax cuts for the best-off and business-friendly deregulation were not answering the needs of less affluent Republicans. Frustrated, they embraced Trump’s nationalism and protectionism along with, in many cases, his racialized appeals. They also noticed that Trump defended key social-insurance programs, especially Social Security and Medicare, which serve an aging Republican base.

In practice, Trump has stuck resolutely to the old conservatism, with the corporate tax cut being his major achievement. His administration is a coterie of millionaires and billionaires whose insensitivity to the shutdown’s victims suggested a worldview inspired by French Bourbons, not prairie populists.

And one thing leads to another:

Trump has asked his blue-collar loyalists to live on a diet of rhetoric and empty symbols – the border wall being Symbol No. 1.

Trump’s deteriorating poll numbers showed that all but the most extreme of his supporters were losing faith in his project.

In the meantime, liberals and the left have absorbed key lessons from the Trump insurgency. One of them is that a progressive movement seen as speaking primarily for affluent metropolitan areas will never command a durable majority. Another is that there is room for bolder political thinking given the discontent in the country with unevenly shared economic growth.

That would be an embrace of the Deep State:

What is interpreted as a leftward lurch can thus be better seen as an effort to pull the entire political spectrum away from the premises that have dominated U.S. politics since the Reagan era. These exerted a gravitational pull even on the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton presidencies.

Conservatives succeeded in selling the poppycock that showering money on the investing class – the “makers not the takers,” the “job creators” – would lead to prosperity for all.

Presidential candidates – those thinking of running and other Democratic politicians – are also responding to the policy vacuum on the right embodied by the shutdown-for-a-symbol. For starters, supply-side economics is so yesterday. There is now room to talk about a wealth tax, proposed last week by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and a large middle- and working-class tax cut offered by Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California. Meanwhile, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York has inspired serious debate (unimaginable even a few years ago) about a 70 percent tax rate on earnings over $10 million.

That’s about as Deep State as it gets. The good of the people matters more than the portfolios of any multimillionaire, and there are other ideas out there:

The underlying assumptions of the right are under assault as well. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has made “the dignity of work” his battle cry, making a case for the priority of labor over capital… Nibbling at the edges of problems is no longer fashionable. Thus Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is making universal paid family leave a centerpiece of her presidential bid. Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro is pushing for universal pre-K programs, while former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that if he runs, he wants to highlight bold action to curb gun violence and climate change.

All of this assumes, as a given, that government can be useful – sometimes boring, but necessary, and yes, quite useful. All it takes is competent people who know what they’re doing, from years of experience, doing the grunt work to make it all work. That’s not a Deep State conspiracy to nullify the will of the people. Do what’s useful. That can be the will of the people.

That’s an idea that will resurface now, and it resurfaced out here in Oakland, where a Deep State woman, who had been a district attorney and then the senior prosecutor in San Francisco, and then California Attorney General, and who is now one of the state’s two senators, argued government can do good things:

Sen. Kamala Harris, formally launching her presidential campaign against Donald Trump with a call to end the politics of division, cast herself on Sunday as a voice for progressive causes and a fighter who could stand up to the president – specifically by countering his many falsehoods with the truth.

Speaking at a raucous hometown rally here – where more than 20,000 supporters crowded around a downtown plaza and hundreds more spilled into the streets – Harris declared that American democracy was under attack like “never before.” Set against the flags of all 50 states, but delivered in a deeply divided America, the address invoked the trauma of the Watergate era of high cynicism and low confidence in Washington’s leaders.

That has to stop:

The California Democrat portrayed her candidacy as the antidote to a growing unease with the country’s direction today, and to concerns that core values that should define the presidency are disintegrating under Trump. She wrapped her campaign opener around two broad themes: truth and civility.

“As we embark on this campaign, I will tell you this: I am not perfect. Lord knows I am not perfect,” Harris said. “But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect. I will lead with integrity and I will speak the truth.”

That means no more conspiracy-theory politics:

With the stately backdrop of Oakland City Hall, where a preacher bellowed, a gospel choir sang and “artists of the black diaspora” performed, Harris’ dual message underscored her candidacy as one of both a Democratic uniter and a principled leader tough enough to stand up to the Trump White House, whose administration she said was failing the public.

Without ever mentioning his name, Harris repeatedly cast herself as the direct contrast to the president on a wide range of issues – from women’s and immigrants’ rights, to cybersecurity and American security abroad. Harris called out the Trump administration for what she called “bullying and attacking a free press” and putting “children in cages crying for their mothers and fathers.”

“Don’t you dare call that border security,” Harris said of the practice of separating migrant families at the border. “That’s a human rights abuse. And that’s not our America.”

“America,” she said, “we are better than this.”

And the government can do some good:

Harris’ campaign designed the speech as a venue to tie her message to her biography as the daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Indian-born mother. But aides also saw it as a way for the senator to put down stakes on several progressive issues, from Medicare for all, to a $500-a-month tax break for the middle class paid for by rolling back the Republican tax overhaul, to guaranteed universal pre-kindergarten and debt-free college.

The country may not get there on these things, but the country can try:

As a daughter of Oakland, Harris said she was raised to believe that public service is a noble cause, and that the fight for justice is everyone’s responsibility. Invoking an iconic Bob Marley tune, a nod to her own heritage, Harris drew cheers when she summed up her philosophy: “You’ve got to get up and stand up and don’t give up the fight.”

It seems she doesn’t want to shut down the government. She’s not paranoid. She wants the government to work, for everyone, as it has in the past and as it can do again. There’s no evil Deep State, really. Or she’s a member of that Deep State club. Trump won’t go to their meetings. They’re evil. They’re out to get him.

No, they’re not. They’ll just move on without him. Maybe everyone will.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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