A few thoughts on the “Deep State”

We have been hearing a lot about the so-called “deep state” since President Donald Trump took office, and conservatives have been very disdainful of it. Some of that disdain is deserved, but we need to think about this and have some charity for these folks. First, a couple caveats:

  • Of course there are some folks in the “deep state” who are corrupt, and people who act in bad faith. Those folks should be removed from their positions and, if appropriate, criminally prosecuted.
  • Of course civil service employees in the federal government should obey lawful orders from the President. They do not set policy. They implement policy, even when they disagree with that policy.

With that said, is everyone in the deep state a bad person, even when they are thwarting lawful orders by the President? Or should we have a different assumption?

I think many of these folks are well-intentioned people who love their country and genuinely want what is best for her. It makes sense that some of them, especially people in the State Department, would be deeply worried by Trump’s mercurial personality, unorthodox style and disdain for following well-established procedures. (I am intentionally not getting into specific things here, because I am trying to establish a general principle.)

One does not have to agree with their actions to assume that they think Trump is a destructive force and they want to do what they can to limit the damage they believe he is causing. One can believe they are wrong (and if they are thwarting lawful orders, they are wrong) and still grant that they are patriots, rather than corrupt actors trying to overthrow a legitimately elected president in some sort of bureaucratic coup.

If we are going to heal the divisions in our nation and make our cultural and political debates less nasty, it makes sense to try to assume good will, absent evidence to the contrary for specific individuals.