Once again, we have been saved by the “deep state” – all those anonymous, earnest, and unflappable career government “bureaucrats” who have kept the ship of state on keel, despite the unrelenting chaos at the top. Let’s pause and celebrate these people, who have been so viciously reviled for so long.
Around two million career civil servants perform our country’s day-to-day grunt work, making sure the government works, regardless of who is in power.
They are public health experts, scientists, and environmentalists. They deliver the mail and the Social Security checks. They award and oversee federal grants and contracts, collect and interpret factual data, look out for America’s interests overseas – and so much more.
Yet there are many on the far right who portray the deep state as an evil and sinister conspiracy, bent on destroying our way of life. Former Trump administration strategist Steve Bannon made “deconstruction of the administrative state” a major tenet of his national populist revolt. Buying in to Bannon’s mission, President Trump described the deep state as “the steady creep of government bureaucracy that drains the vitality and wealth of the people.” Since then the right wing has ratcheted up its fury, portraying the deep state as “more than just signifying an impersonal, inept bureaucracy, it conjures a secretive illuminati of bureaucrats determined to sabotage the Trump agenda.”
To refer to career civil servants in the U.S. government as some form of deep state is a clear attempt to delegitimize voices of disagreement. Even worse, it carries with it the potential for fear-baiting and rumor-mongering, and is really a dark conspiratorial term that does not correspond to reality.
As a result of the right wing paranoia over career civil servants, the Trump administration has decimated institutional expertise by purging thousands of skilled and knowledgeable government employees – people like Russian expert Fiona Hill; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine expert at the National Security Council; and career Justice Department employee and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates.
To many government observers this is a travesty. “To refer to career civil servants in the U.S. government as some form of deep state is a clear attempt to delegitimize voices of disagreement,” said Nancy McEldowney, who retired in June as director of the Foreign Service Institute. “Even worse, it carries with it the potential for fear-baiting and rumor-mongering, and is really a dark conspiratorial term that does not correspond to reality.”
In reality the government civil service will be restored to its rightful position of respect as the Biden administration once again staffs government agencies on the basis of expertise, rather than political loyalty. And the hard-working civil servants can once again focus on doing their jobs, rather than dealing with threats from inept political appointees.