Two Cheers For The Deep State

I spent the past 22 years teaching students how to become members of the “deep state.”

Of course, we didn’t call it that, or see it as the negative that phrase suggests. Our faculty taught students who planned to enter public service–or civil society–the skills, knowledge and especially the specific ethical principles such service requires.

I even co-authored a textbook: American Public Service: Constitutional and Ethical Foundations. 

What the neanderthals sneeringly call “the deep state” is a bureaucracy devoted to those principles–government employees who understand that their loyalty is not to transient political authorities, but to a constitutionally-grounded ethic of public service. Every time civil servants have thwarted Trump, they have demonstrated a commitment to those principles.

A recent post to Juanita Jean described how a principled government workforce–the  ethical denizens of that “deep state”–acted to “preserve and protect” the operations of one government agency: Radio Free Europe.

Trump had installed one of his loyalists, a typical Trump sycophant named Michael Pack, to manage the agency.  Pack proceeded to replace members of the board and senior staff with Trumpers, ideologues, and conservative activists. He also dissolved all of the boards of agencies under his authority and packed those boards and the staffs of those agencies with what has been described as “a rogue’s gallery of religious fanatics, activists, ideologues and weirdos.”

Biden has already signaled a housecleaning once he assumes office, but according to reports, Pack is not planning on going quietly–he secretly began entering into binding employment contracts with his handpicked staff–the terms of which would block any Biden firings for two years.

The linked post tells what happened next.

When the career staff found out what Pack was doing, they said not no, but hell no, and blew the whistle.  Day before yesterday, they sent a four page letter to McConnell, Pelosi, and Senate and House leaders, the Inspector General, and the presidential transition team.  The letter was signed by over two dozen staffers including the editorial board, the editor in chief, and all the heads of the global regional operations.  In the letter, they made this statement:

“These actions include your recent distribution of a revised grant agreement with RFE/RL that has been unilaterally prepared by your office and is intended to revoke RFE/RL’s financial autonomy and embed your appointees within both RFE/RL and its Board of Directors for a period of two years – an unprecedented departure from RFE/RL’s tradition of working in a bipartisan manner with changing U.S. administrations. This conflicts with the appointment process enshrined in law and in our bylaws, and is precisely the kind of political power maneuver that RFE/RL regularly witnesses in places like Russia, Hungary, Belarus, and Tajikistan. We never thought we’d see it from our own oversight agency.”

What’s particularly galling is that in October a Superior Court Judge in DC ruled that Pack had acted illegally in dissolving the board and seizing control of the Open Technology Fund which was established to help areas of the world access to open and secure internet access.  Pack has ignored the court order and refused to reestablish the boards he dissolved.

Lawyers and political scientists talk a lot about the importance of the rule of law. What Pack attempted at Radio Free Europe is a perfect example of what happens when people in positions of authority ignore their ethical/constitutional obligations and make a mockery of the rule of law.

It took the courageous revolt by those much-reviled bureaucrats of the “deep state” to prevent the thugs and mobsters of the Trump Administration from eviscerating constitutional controls on agency operations.

Similar scenarios have undoubtedly played out in other parts of the federal government. We owe the much-maligned “deep state” our respect and our gratitude.


  1. Trump took a page from Mike Pence, he too tried to establish a news agency that was putting out “the story” he wanted to tell. These folks despise the free press as much as they despise the people they”serve”.

  2. I am encouraged by the story of true believers inside Radio Free Europe. There is no question in mind assets were being ‘arrested’ to build Trump Media. Thank you, Shiela, for bringing this one example of deep state to light. You have done pioneering work to develop depth on the bench for city, state and federal government as well as civic partners. The formidable adversaries of good government ensured by deep state will continue in the shadows to infiltrate government elected and appointed ranks: The Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Quanon, et al. Each have developed there own narrative and led by cunning and street savvy leaders. Their champion in The White House has been stripped of some of his lethal tools to intentionally carry out fatricidal gas lighting of partisan leadership challenging his bullying tactics. None of this is going away too soon. Other social media platforms are ready to take the place of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The Biden Administration has a huge challenge to undertake and we must be prepared to support efforts to restore good government as an essential part of the greater challenge yet: recovery to a new era post global tri-demic.

  3. One of the creatures that doesn’t receive enough discredit is Steve Bannon. He used, abused and misused his platform at Breitbart and in the White House to sow these seeds of idiocy throughout right-wing politics. And here we are.

    Bannon and the rest of the slime from the walls of flowing sewers must be tried and convicted for sedition, because everything they’ve said and done has to do with overthrowing the U.S. government.

  4. But we are left hanging in the air. Did the letter from the VOA employees manage to prevent Pack from “loading the deck?”

  5. Trump has been amassing his “Deep State”, comprised of United States citizens throughout the nation, for five years. On Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the staunchest of them rallied around him at his invitation to be told what their primary target has been all along; the seat of our government. With a noose in place and his minions chanting “Hang Mike Pence” as they attacked, ransacked, burglarized offices and physically attacked anyone in their path, he proved how much he would no longer like his Vice President Mike Pence for “not doing right by him”. He promised them “it will be wild” if they come, his shyster attorney Rudy Giuliani told them to “seek justice by combat” and his son Donnie, Jr., told them to “have fun”.

    What happened on that day was a carefully planned and carried out hostile and deadly attack on this nation’s leaders as they were handily in one place to become easy targets. Among the insurrectionists were elected members of our own government. In the aftermath; among those of Trump’s Republican party who refuse to support his removal from office are those devoid of ethical principles who will block all action to remove him from the presidency which comes with preventing him from running for office again in 2024. It is this nation’s future democracy, Rule of Law and upholding the Constitution of the United States of America that is at stake with this 2nd impeachment or enacting the 25th Amendment.

    What it is NOT is a politically based action. Where are those members of “Deep State” in both parties of our government deserving of those “Two Cheers…”?

  6. @ Pascal I feel the same way, but I am aware we are amidst a huge transition. It is not change that gets us; the BIG IT is how we manage the transition. I trust deep state will provide detailed Intel for the Biden Administration to unpack and rebuild better. It will take time.

  7. As a former member of that deep state, I say it’s about time somebody realized the value of the government worker. We all took that oath to protect and defend the Constitution and the vast majority of us did just that, despite attempts at interference from both Congress and the Executive, which weren’t nearly so egregious as they have been for these past four years.

  8. The deep state!

    In the past 4 years especially, there has been an assault on ethics and whistleblowers.

    If anything, whistleblower laws should be strengthened!

    Donald Trump wouldn’t know deep state if it hit him in the keister! The people that he put in government himself, his own vice president, Christopher Ray, even Mike Pompeo who he’s accused of being part of the deep state, the judges that he’s nominated, his self crafted Supreme Court are all members of the deep state supposedly!

    If we would go by trumps calculations, he’s a very poor judge of character, because all he does is hire deep state operatives! You can’t continue to hire people at the top tier of government and then turn around and claim they are all deep state even though they are your guys or gals!

    Fortunately, you have a certain amount of ethical and moral backbone even among some of Trumps lackeys. And thank goodness for that! Because, the next time we might not be so fortunate.

    Like I mentioned in a previous thread, we would have to go through a week’s course of ethical training every year! That ethical training discussed everything that’s anti-Trump! Pay to play, greasing palms, clandestine chicanery, the use of nondisclosure agreements in the public realm, whistleblowers, and unadulterated loyalty to the person and not the system either in corporation or government.

    One of the biggest uses of chicanery is to avoid the me-b, we-b laws concerning set-asides and mentorships, mostly OJT! These programs were meant to level the playing field for minority contractors and women contractors in corporate America.

    What these corporations would do is just find a figurehead and form a shell management group to use their own good old boy contacts! This has just gotten worse in the past 4 years. But it needs to be clamped down on because of the unethical and amoral diaspora that is ingrained in government and corporate America. Uniformity in ethics, uniformity in morals, uniformity in opportunity, that should be the mantra that this government lives by!

    Corporate America and government has just become one large grift smorgasbord. Choose your chicanery and open your wallet! So simple if you’re wealthy or connected, it’s the deathknell if you’re poor or a minority.

  9. The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis with the sub-title of “A hymn to the deep state, which is revealed as nothing more than people who know what they’re talking about.” Think I’ve mentioned this book here before but it is an excellent testimony to the tireless work of our government employees.

    On another matter my friends, with last Wednesday’s shenanigans, we just witnessed a sitting President “shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and getting away with it.”

  10. If I remember American history correctly, the Civil Service rules that inculcate respect for law and Constitution and remove most civil service employees from political appointments (only the top levels are political) came out of the Progressive movement in the early 20th century. A Republican-led movement that did immense good in lessening the corruption that was so out of control by the end of the 19th century.

  11. One of the first concepts taught in civics is the age old term “balance of power”. This is the concept that to avoid falling to the corrupting influence of power, the government makes sure that there are countervailing powers to check any temptation to it. It’s pretty simple and very effective when everyone is playing by the same rules.

    One of the reasons that right-wing propaganda has been teaching for years that government is too big is because the sponsors of the message, people like Trump and Pence and Bannon and a host of others, feel entitled to power, to authority over the little people who are not entitled to any. Often the two groups are not playing by the same rules because rules are created by the entitled to control the little people.

    Trump is in the process of being taught not now, not here, not ever. He thought that he had the balance of power beaten. Not so fast Donald.

  12. Vern – These creatures lately with their support in high places openly discuss treason and sedition as though we are discussing jaywalking and speeding tickets. Bannon, for instance, from day one openly called for “deconstruction of the administrative state,” an admittedly Leninist posture, and as to “deep state” propaganda orchestrated by fascists, we saw the deep state in action last Wednesday with Trump-inspired mobsters roaming our capitol.

    So now when the heat is on, we are told that we must cool it in the name of unity. Yeah, right, the noose they had on the sidewalk as they milled around with their confederate flag and Auschwitz reminders on tee shirts is to be forgotten. Not a chance!

  13. Pete; isn’t that term “balance of power” what President Obama was referring to with his book “The Audacity Of Hope”? That both parties could once again sit at the bargaining table and find solutions to our problems.

  14. JoAnn, it seems to me that in our liberal democracy balance of power is a foundational concept like democracy is. The people who wrote into our Constitution the design of government that they felt we the people were entitled to just by our humanity, what we shouldn’t accept less than, was one in which unlawful influence over our lives was impossible to achieve because every means of achieving it is blocked either by the will of the people or a countervailing other force in government.

    One detail that evolved rather than being specified was the few party system necessitating negotiation with unlike minded others to find compromise solutions that satisfy both perspectives.

    Take that King George or would be King Donald for that matter!

  15. RSS
    Devil’s Tower
    Daily Kos
    Share this article

    Over the last week, there have been many reasons to be enraged, disgusted, and horrified. But this may require a complete reset of the outrage meter.

    Copied and pasted from Daily Kos:
    “The Pentagon has released a heavily slanted timeline of events surrounding the Donald Trump-incited insurrection on Wednesday. Only they didn’t call it an insurrection. Or an assault. Or an attempted overthrow of the American government by white supremacist forces organized, inspired, and directed by Donald Trump. It’s not a coup. It’s not even a failed revolution.

    The Pentagon is calling Wednesday’s events “First Amendment Protests.”

    There must be a name for this government movement; “Deep Cover” for those Trump supporters in the administration and Congress who refuse to support his removal from the presidency?

  16. Trump called it the “deep state” because, for a man who has acquired no measurable knowledge in any subject, everything that requires expertise to understand and/or manage seems incomprehensibly profound. If you argue this point, please refer me to one speech or tweet or interview in the past four years in which Trump has revealed even an iota of knowledge on any topic. ……I’m waiting.

    I’ll admit he has come to understand demagoguery, the technique for achieving goals through lies, how to incite riots and related democracy-defeating disciplines, but since these don’t play well in public, he uses them without bragging about them. He knows, too, how to organize teams of lawyers to intimidate or swindle business partners and others he comes in contact with, but this skill, likewise, is not often spoken of in prime time. He sees the Art of the Deal as a process of whining and attempting to intimidate until his adversary gives up in disgust.

    Donald seems ignorant simply because he is so thoroughly unlettered. For all I know he has a measurable I.Q., but in his lifetime he has never applied it with any focus except to increase his own aggrandizement. Along the way he has sacrificed his ethics, his principles and his soul. If he weren’t so reprehensible and so dangerous, he would be a man whom one might pity.

  17. ’bout time that membership in the US House/Senate was considered “public service” and its members acted in that way. Last time I looked, it was the “public” that sent them there …

    They take an oath…to something even higher than the public (which could be Trumpians) who put them there…

  18. The deepest of the deep state is the Constitution.

    I said that here two years ago. Wait; I’m putting on a shoe here. Ah, now I shall think for a moment as an ult-right Trumpite, perhaps the only one of them equipped to so think:

    What is it then that I crave to destroy when I lash out against deep state? I must know the answer before I don my hunting gear and check my load and begin my stalk, for stalking the unknown is known by many secret tricks of the dark to lead into the bloody teeth of the unknown world entire. If I slay one or a hundred whom I suspect to be cogs within the deep state, what have I done? Nothing. Nothing. Because the deep state in its mysterious ways keeps right on deepstating.

    So, where from here? In my head I resume my tracking of the beast. After a while the tracks lead to a scroll of old parchment and hand-inked text unheaded except for the larger inscription We The People. It does not call itself The Constitution of the United States of America but I know that is what my hunt has found. So.

    That is both my answer and my predicament. I could burn the document and bury the ashes but the ideas and the guidelines and their authority contained within it will not burn. Nor will they hold to being buried, because they are already buried in bedrock. Deep and stately.

    I remove my stalking gear. My hunt is over for I have found Deep State and in a strange and powerful way it is me. That which even I am, my narrowness, my breadth and my depth, such as they are, contain the Deep State even as it contains me.

    I sit upon a rock throughout the night and let my bodily heat come level with the world’s heat and watch clouds roll away from the firmament. Eventually, it is morning and I remove my stalkers’ shoes and toss them down a declivity in the world so situated that the declivity is still absent light and may descend into a separate world never to be revealed by light.

    My own shoes now feel slightly wrong, unworthy, incapable of walking reason up and down its path. Perhaps I was a fool to throw away the stalkers boots.

  19. Career Federal Government employees do not get enough credit for what they do. Working during transfers of political power changes and getting the everyday tasks of running the Government done. As a DoD attorney for over twenty years, I was assigned and trained as an ethics counselor within the system. Gave training to hundreds of federal employees over the years regarding the ethical considerations of their roles and positions, as well as the pitfalls. This included the rules and regulations set in place to eliminate bias, favoritism, and discrimination. Some folks may chuckle when told that there were ethical requirements for federal employees. I am glad I’d retired before the current Administration took office and did not have to deal with the ignorance, assault, and total hypocrisy that the lack of ethics had in it. Hope the incoming Administration remembers and reinstates the importance of “the ethical principles such service requires.”

  20. You know? When you talk about the deep state in the United states, the deep state is really a racist belief that started from this country’s inception.

    Plenty of historical cases of this, and when Woodrow Wilson viewed birth of a Nation in the white house, that pretty much should have sealed the deal! But, you had Tulsa Oklahoma and Knoxville Tennessee and rosewood Florida, amongst others like in North Carolina where whites stormed African American enclaves and murdered their representation along with their families.

    The birth of the Klan which along with the Protestant religious connotation, allowed people to believe they were doing the Lord’s work!the same mentality was prevalent during the slave trade,band, until you dig down and forcibly remove this sort of contamination, it will keep rearing it’s ugly head in perpetuity.

    These racist freedom fighters have never had to really pay a penalty, and it’s about time that they started paying a penalty just like the Nazis paid in germany! This is the deep state! And you can see how much this has crept into our political system and military! It had already found a home well nestled in religion!

    There has to be a physical penalty, and all of those clowns throwing their crutches through the windows at the Capitol should be thrown off of their government disability payments! Guantanamo Bay seems like a really good location for them!

  21. Pocket-size book ($7.00) that is brief and right to the point of what would, and did, happen on Wednesday, January 6, 2021. Author Timothy Snyder published the book in 2017. Rachel Maddow recommended. Amazon Prime got it here in two days. You will be fascinated!

    “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons From The Twentieth Century” by Timothy Snyder
    From Tim Duggan Books
    Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York

  22. As john said, “There has to be a physical penalty, and all of those clowns throwing their crutches through the windows at the Capitol should be thrown off of their government disability payments! Guantanamo Bay seems like a really good location for them!”
    We have seen nothing less than “The barbarians at the gates,” and they are us…more or less. I have heard the there will be no indictments for “Incitement to riot,” but that is, presumably, during this, sick administration. Giuliani has been among the most vociferous of those whose efforts led up to 1/6/21. In court, where he has been constantly rebuffed, he speaks one language, but out on the hustings, he speaks Trumpian, and his call to “physical combat,” can not be unaddressed. I emphasize Rudy, because I’ve heard no on else raise his name in disgust. This is the fool who declared that “I will be the hero!” His 15 minutes of fame, after 9/11 seems to have twisted his already feeble mind.
    Bannon, who’s been a feeder to Trump’s imbecilic malignancy also needs to be brought to court.
    Kudos to the “Deep State!”

  23. Wow – thanks for sharing that, John – I’m not a Schwarzenegger fan, but that was great.

    Let’s hear it for the deep-state (full disclosure, I have been employed by the federal and state governments at times.)
    People who hate the deep state (among others)
    Big corporations – they don’t want restraints on their deeds, nor documentation.
    Rich individuals – they don’t want restraint on their deed, nor documentations.
    Would-be dictators —- you get the idea


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