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VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: The deep state at work

by Victor Davis Hanson | November 21, 2019 at 2:57 a.m.

For most of the last three years, Donald Trump's critics have scoffed at supposed "conspiracy theories" that claimed a "deep state" of bureaucrats were aborting the Trump presidency. We have been told the word "coup" is hyperbole that reveals the paranoid minds of Trump supporters.

Yet many people brag that they are proud members of a deep state and occasionally boast about the idea of a coup.

Recently, former acting CIA chief John McLaughlin proclaimed in a public forum, "Thank God for the deep state." Former CIA director John Brennan agreed and praised the "deep state people" for their opposition to Trump.

Far from denying the danger of an unelected careerist bureaucracy that seeks to overturn presidential policies, New York Times columnists have praised its efforts to nullify the Trump agenda.

On the first day of the impeachment inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called his initial two witnesses, career State Department diplomats William Taylor Jr. and George Kent. Far from providing damning evidence of criminal presidential behavior, Taylor and Kent mostly confined themselves to three topics: their own sterling résumés, their lack of any firsthand knowledge of incriminating Trump action, and their poorly hidden disgust with the manner and substance of Trump's foreign policy.

Oddly, both had little clue that their demeanor and thinly disguised self-importance were a perfect example of why Trump got elected--to come up with new ideas antithetical to the conventional wisdom of unelected career bureaucrats.

Taylor and Kent announced that they are simply high-minded civil servants who serve the presidential administrations of both parties without bias.

But by nature, the huge federal bureaucracy counts on bigger government and more taxes to feed it. So naturally, the bureaucracy is usually more sympathetic to big-government progressives than to small-government conservatives.

Taylor and Kent cited their anguish with Trump's foreign policy toward Ukraine--namely that it did not go through official channels and was too unsympathetic to Ukraine and too friendly to Russia. If so, one might have thought the anguished bureaucrats would have similarly gone public during the Obama administration.

After all, Vice President Joe Biden took over the Obama administration's Ukrainian policy at a time when his son Hunter was knee-deep in Ukrainian affairs. As a consultant for a Ukrainian natural gas company, Hunter Biden made a reported $80,000 a month without expertise in either the energy business in particular or Ukraine in general.

Also, Trump's policies have been more anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian than those of the Obama administration. Trump armed the Ukrainians; Obama did not. Trump imposed new sanctions against Russia, used force against Russian mercenaries in Syria, beefed up NATO defenses, pulled the U.S. out an asymmetrical missile treaty with Russia, and pumped more oil and gas to lower world prices, much to the chagrin of oil-exporting Russia.

In contrast, Obama was the architect of "reset" with Russia that reached its nadir in a hot mic exchange in which Obama offered a quid pro quo, vowing more flexibility on issues such as U.S.-sponsored missile defense in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia giving Obama "space" to concentrate on his re-election.

Trump's critics have also radically changed their spin on coups. To them, "coup" is no longer a dirty word trafficked in by right-wing conspiracists. Instead, it has been normalized as a possibly legitimate means of aborting the Trump presidency.

In September 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed from an anonymous White House official who boasted of supposedly wide-scale efforts inside the Trump administration to nullify its operations and subvert presidential directives.

Such efforts to oppose Trump are often self-described as The Resistance, a reference to the underground French fighters resisting the Nazis in World War II.

Trump's opponents often have praised the deep state precisely because unelected career officials are seen as the most effective way to sabotage and stymie his agenda.

A coup is no longer proof of right-wing paranoia, but increasingly a part of the general progressive discourse of resistance to Trump.

In these upside-down times, patriotism is being redefined as removing a president before a constitutionally mandated election.

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Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Editorial on 11/21/2019

Print Headline: Deep state at work

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