President Joe Biden has not wasted a moment since his inauguration on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. He is rolling out executive orders and assuring Americans of positive changes, particularly with regard to the nation’s ongoing battle with COVID-19.
During a press conference held the day after the ceremony, the president stated: “To a nation waiting for action, let me be clear on this point: Help is on the way.”
President Biden is attempting to restore confidence in the U.S. government. After four years of hard and fast accusations against “deep state” federal workers from the elected executive, many bureaucratic reputations need mending.
The History of the ‘Deep State’
Associate Professor of Government at Cornell University Jamila Michener describes a deep state as “an idea that implies that there is some entrenched bureaucratic officialdom; some shadow government that’s operating in contradistinction to the will of the executive.”
Though the phrase ‘shadow government’ may evoke a sense of medieval fantasy, the term deep state comes from authoritarian rule in Turkey. Derin devlet was coined to describe the hidden operations of agents of organized criminal groups working within the Turkish government in the early 2000s. The term has since gained global recognition, which is why some Americans now presume a deep state in the works on Capitol Hill.
Still, the idea of a deep state is nothing new in the U.S..
McCarthyism, Watergate, and the Pentagon Papers could be considered examples of deep state operations in the U.S. government. With the exception of the latter, the executive branch approved of these historical events, which differs from the term’s Turkish origins and Michener’s description.
This raises the question, is it possible for deep state conspiracies to operate against the will of the executive, while also working in their favor?
President Trump and the Deep State
The popularity of deep state conspiracies is on the rise, especially in recent years, no doubt in part due to the Trump administration’s narrative of the notion. Former President Donald Trump consistently engages with the deep state conspiracy through statements and beliefs that allege he is being personally attacked and challenged.
This engagement has garnered him tons of opposition, but has also set a foundation for fervent support. Through the deep state framework, supporters lose all trust in bureaucratic agencies and place it in the hands of Trump and his selected appointees.
According to Daniel Carpenter, author and Professor of Government at Harvard University, “President Trump’s appointments and his management of the administrative state has been based much more on loyalty to the president’s person than on ideology or even partisanship…” This idea of loyalty over all else is a key characteristic of many of the former president’s supporters.
In the case of Trump, the deep state conspiracy works in the favor of the executive, but only through the idea that there are hidden agencies working against him. By extension, anyone who works against the will of Trump is also working against the will of his advocates.
A Displacement of Trust in Federal Bureaucracy
This mindset of the deep state has displaced trust in government agencies and democracy. By blindly supporting one figure and his cronies, America—it’s history, government, and foundation—lose support.
Carpenter argues against the deep state. He believes that Americans should not fret over administrative agencies disagreeing with governing politicians. The allegiance of those agencies should be with the law. The separation of executive, legislative, and judicial branches is an inherently American system.
With a newfound proclivity for assuming the worst of bureaucratic agencies, dangerous ideas threaten the wellbeing of many Americans.
The Dangers of the Deep State Conspiracy
The deep state belief system fuels the fires of extremists like QAnon, ‘Plandemic’ supporters, and anti-vaxxers. Each of these groups share the fundamental belief that administrative agencies are working against Americans in some capacity. 2020—a year of pandemic, divide and national turmoil—helped give rise to those other conspiratorial mindsets.
More pressing, however, are the realtime effects of Trump’s popularization of the deep state conspiracy on health services.
Federal downsizing may look nice on the surface, but its actions and effects seem to reflect conspiratorial ideals. Trump successfully turned people against healthcare, health services, and various safety net programs, even during a global pandemic.
The reputations of necessary agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are wavering under this rhetoric.
In addition to the preexisting group of anti-vaxxers in the country, a new population of people now question the efficacy of the FDA in approving COVID-19 vaccines. This unwillingness to believe bureaucratic agencies is a direct engagement with deep state conspiracies because people presume that approvals have been done against the public’s best interest and under the thumb of Trump.
President Biden’s attempts to remedy mistrust, misunderstandings and miscommunications about the U.S. government are necessary steps in protecting the health and wellbeing of Americans.
Moving Forward: Combating the Deep State
The tentacles of the deep state can be found in the federal, state and local levels of government. Change seems to be on the horizon, but it won’t arrive without difficulty.
Politico reports a “…higher-than-usual number of Trump administration political appointees… ‘burrowing’ into career positions throughout the federal government…which come with job protections that will make it difficult for Biden to fire them.”
Alongside some of his predecessor’s loyalists, President Biden continues to assure positivity and reliability in his administration.
As public demand is answered and Americans are promised resources, it seems that Trump’s claims of deep state operations may have been an act of martyrdom, likely to be recalled at the time of a potential reelection campaign.