While all hopes of having a quick impeachment investigation have now been blown out of the water by the compounding ineptitudes of Trump’s administration, the endless subpoenas and testimonies have revealed something about the so-called “deep state” that all Americans should take comfort from: far from the sinister masterminds and secretive agents that the conspiratorial side of the American media sphere would have us believe, the bureaucracy of executive branch agencies is composed mostly of regular work-a-day folks trying to survive their day jobs just like the rest of us.
You can see the evidence for this in the big picture facts of the Ukraine scandal, such as how Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, was able to set up an ‘irregular’ channel for diplomatic relations with Ukraine without anyone in the State Department other than Sondland (who was in on it) figuring it out for several months. Due to this backchannel, decisions were made that did not make sense to most bureaucrats given the State Department’s goals in Ukraine. One such decision was the decision to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars of aid when every committee and analyst agreed that the aid was warranted. But when this happened, no deep state asset was activated, no subliminal messages were sent out through our radios and TVs. The only thing that happened was that the bureaucrats in the State Department who were responsible for Ukrainian diplomacy noted the problem, passed their displeasure with it up the chain of command, and moved on with their day. There is nothing special about this process. That is basically how everything works in large institutions, whether they be multinational corporations or universities. That is exactly what you and I would do if something were off in our day jobs. We would write a memo, send a few emails, and let the next person in the chain decide what to do about it.
You can also see the normality of the state department in the details of testimony given as part of the impeachment inquiry, such as the fact that Ambassador William B. Taylor, Jr., used WhatsApp to text Ambassadors Volker and Sondland. These days, we are all numb to Trump’s use of Twitter to conduct official White House communications, but there is still something jarringly casual about the State Department using WhatsApp at the highest levels to engage in strategic coordination. After all, do they know about Slack? It is so much more professional. Maybe now that Microsoft will be building out the next version of the government’s cloud computing system instead of Amazon, our ambassadors will at least be forced to switch over to Skype. Let’s just hope they don’t have to use Teams. The point is this: if the deep state were really that sinister, wouldn’t they be using some sort of top-secret, weapons-grade, blockchain-infused, artificial intelligence spy messenger app that looked super cool on their phones and spoke to them in a sexy computer voice when they dictated commands to it? If this is what the deep state looks like, then it looks very much like an Office Space version where the only “deep” thing about it is the hypnotic stupor those poor bureaucratic underlings must all be in so they can survive the sheer mundanity of their day jobs in Washington D.C.
America, let’s face it: the deep state is not that deep. Sure, there are state secrets, and yes, there are sometimes sophisticated plots to violate our rights, such as the conspiracy that Edward Snowden revealed a few years ago. But that stuff is usually coming from the gangsters at the top of the hierarchy, not the regular folks who can’t get the coffee machine to work in the break room at Langley, and even the people at the top use WhatsApp and wipe their noses when they catch a cold. So relax. There were no secret meetings in dimly lit bars with tuxedos and fancy dresses. There were no deals made over martinis, shaken, not stirred. There were no burn-after-reading coded messages or thumb drives containing classified files. The only thing that was there was a Pinky-and-the-Brain-style dynamic duo trying to take over the world, and Pinky accidentally butt-dialed a reporter last week. So cool it with the conspiracies about Qanon and lizard people. Are these guys dangerous to our Democracy? Yes. Are they “deep state” dangerous? No.
If there’s one thing about all of this that actually should concern us, it is the sheer ineptitudes of the state apparatus that Trump and his goon squad are revealing. Should the president really have so much power that he can hire Scooby-Doo and Co. to investigate some nonsense, while the rest of the government is powerless to do anything about it unless a whistleblower steps forward that causes Congress to impeach the guy? Surely there must be a better way. There are two levels to the problem here. On the one hand, the president clearly should not have as much power as he currently does. It is too naive to give a person who has the sociopathic skillset required to win the Office that much power and expect them to refrain from trying to cheat the system to survive. Of course they will try to cheat, especially someone like Trump. On the other hand, the accidental transparency that both Trump and this impeachment inquiry are bringing to the mechanisms of the state reveals that the government is nowhere near as sophisticated from a self-management standpoint as it needs to be to deal with a rogue president like Trump. This is perhaps a localized Separations of Power issue within the Executive branch. The State must be able to continue to function even when bad actors are at the top of the hierarchy. It should not be possible for Giuliani to have done what he did, and the fact that, had the whistleblower never stepped forward, we may never have known about it, is enough to make one question the robustness of the entire system.
At the end of the day, what the impeachment inquiry reveals about the deep state is that it is perhaps not deep enough. Instead, the state is too shallow, with most of the power concentrated at the surface and a less than adequate amount of power distributed down and across the bureaucracy. If power were distributed differently throughout the system, and if there were some check built into it to prevent people like Trump and Giuliani from messing with our Democracy without having to rely on whistleblowers and an impeachment inquiry to stop them (after all, thank goodness the people voted the Democrats into a majority in the House. Trump would have gotten away with this if the Republicans still had control of the House), then perhaps we would not have to spend these precious hours of our lives worrying about whether or not a president whom we do not like has the power to blackmail a foreign government into compromising our elections. Perhaps it is time to make the shallow state deeper.