Democrats' Deep-State Denial Morphs Into Deep-State Salute
For years, Democrats and liberal commentators mocked and derided the notion of an American "deep state" fundamentally opposed to President Trump as a baseless conspiracy theory. But then something funny happened. In the space of a few weeks, the same people have decided not only that there really is an unelected coterie of unfireable Washington bureaucrats working behind the scenes to undermine the president and overturn the 2016 election results, but also that it’s a good thing.
It was such a drastic and rapid change of tack that not everyone got the memo. For example, Wikipedia’s page on “Deep state in the United States” still leads off with the words “In the United States, the term ‘deep state’ is used to describe a conspiracy theory,” with five citations to the Democrat Party line.
What’s even more remarkable is how little the facts underlying these narratives have changed. Both sides of this debate, if you can call it that, have been essentially in agreement about what was going on since the earliest days of the Trump administration.
Through politically damaging leaks to the press, close coordination with Democrats, and political exploitation of the vast power of the American administrative state -- particularly the “intelligence community” -- unaccountable anti-Trump civil servants were trying to thwart Trump’s leadership. That’s not a “conspiracy theory.” It’s a conspiracy fact.
The moment Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, career bureaucrats panicked. Defense Department officials with access to classified information worked to get as much dirt on the president-elect to Democrats on Capitol Hill as possible before the end of the Obama administration. By February 2017, it was clear that the intelligence community had withheld information from the new commander-in-chief and then denied doing so to the press.
If the incoming administration needed any further confirmation of what was going on, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was nice enough to put it plainly on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show.” “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community -- they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you,” Schumer warned just 17 days before Donald Trump’s inauguration.
A still-anonymous “senior Trump administration official” would explain a year later that the deep state’s campaign of obstruction extended even into the ranks of political appointees, some of whom turned out to be closeted “Never Trump” Republicans. “I work for the president but like-minded colleagues and I have vowed to thwart parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations,” he or she declared in an New York Times op-ed that buoyed the spirits of anti-Trumpers everywhere.
Faced with this reporting and well aware of the hostility to the incoming president’s agenda within official Washington, Trump supporters adopted the term “deep state” to describe the forces that were, indisputably, seeking to undermine a duly elected U.S. president.
Anti-Trump commentators were quick to equate concerns about an “American deep state” to raving lunacy such as “QAnon” in order to mock the suggestion that anything was amiss within the federal bureaucracy.
Yet even as they mocked, some media outlets grudgingly acknowledged the central dynamic in early 2017. “Like it or not, leaks abound when career people feel their agencies are being unfairly attacked,” Politico Magazine explained. A commentator at the same outlet conceded that, “truth be told, charged with leaking for its own purposes, thwarting Trump’s policy priorities, and ousting his appointees, this Deep State sure looks quite guilty in the context of a chaotic first six weeks in office.”
Still, the “conspiracy theory” mockery continued for two more years, right through this summer. Then, something very important changed: Ukraine-gate.
By September at the latest, The New York Times knew what Adam Schiff had known since August: The so-called whistleblower who set off the latest effort to overturn the 2016 election and remove President Trump from office is the epitome of a “deep state” actor -- a CIA operative with extensive ties to Obama administration officials and Democratic politicians.
Further reporting only made it worse. RealClearInvestigations later named the whistleblower as Eric Ciaramella, a CIA analyst who worked closely with Obama’s spymaster John Brennan -- one of the most hyper-partisan boosters of the Russia collusion narrative -- and Democratic 2020 front-runner Joe Biden. Ciaramella was allegedly removed from his post at the White House specifically for leaking, which would explain why he was forced to rely on second- and third-hand information in his complaint on Trump-Ukraine. When Democrats tried to substantiate Ciaramella’s complaints, they called up Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. A former commander quickly came forward to call Vindman “a political activist in uniform” — an Obama devotee who could be the “deep state operative” from central casting.
And suddenly, as this was coming to light, the press changed its tune about the existence of the deep state.
In its coverage of the current and former administration officials testifying before Congress, The New York Times called the Democrats’ witnesses “practically the embodiment of the ‘deep state’ that the president has long accused of trying to take him down.” The newspaper’s opinion page screamed that “President Trump is right: The deep state is alive and well” and hailed the deep state moles — who supposedly didn’t exist a month ago — as heroes.
The quickest narrative reversal in history reached fruition last week as former acting CIA Director John McLaughlin sat on stage with two Russia-gate stalwarts, Brennan and disgraced former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. “Thank God for the deep state,” McLaughlin said, to the delight of the Trump-hating audience.
Journalists can also applaud the deep state all they want. That’s their prerogative, however shortsighted it may be. But don’t tell me it’s a conspiracy theory, especially not while Democratic politicians continue to march in lockstep with their deep state allies, calling their embedded allies before congressional committees and then selectively releasing transcripts to build a public case for impeachment on a pile of sand.