If you have gone down the wrong click hole on the internet, you may have heard of the “deep state.” If you have the fortune of avoiding such dark and conspiracy-filled places, then let me briefly explain.
The “deep state” is supposedly a cabal of unelected career bureaucrats and intelligence operatives who secretly are running a shadow government that works to supersede our elected government at every turn. They are the reason that change is so slow in government, why government always seems to be expanding and why any number of things occur, including but not limited to: free trade/globalization, various assassinations, vaccines, climate change, suppressing “the truth”, etc. All this is done for various nefarious reasons ranging from simple greed to global illuminati mind control (and no I am not making this up. This is really what some people believe).
Well, over my last co-op, I “infiltrated” one of these deep state institutions in Harrisburg, and I have to say, anyone who believes such a deep state exists is either completely ignorant of the way government works, or is peddling this fictitious conspiracy theory to scare you for their own ends.
It is true that our government employs thousands upon thousands of unelected bureaucrats and officials who are kept at arms length from the direct whims of the elected members of the government. However, they are by no stretch of the imagination a scheming and calculating group of secret world rulers.
In truth, they are by and large just office workers. They are underpaid and overworked pencil pushers who work to make sure that all the paperwork we fill out is properly stored and utilized, when they are not doing their best to assist angry or frustrated citizens with issues they often don’t have the immediate ability to solve. The biggest secret they keep is that someone in human resources has a surprise birthday party next week, so they have to be careful about making sure they don’t spoil it for them. The worst thing the taxpayer paid for that they have ever stolen is a few office supplies like sticky notes or the odd pen from the supply closet. The most criminal thing they have probably ever done is use a sick day to take a day off or try to use a 10-item lane with 11 items in their cart at the grocery store.
The so-called deep state is just a bunch of blue and white collar workers, who like most of us, are just doing their 40 hours a week, plus a little overtime before going home to cook and eat dinner, hit the gym, love their families and watch some Netflix. Their own individual, or even their collective powers, are extremely limited. It is often just enough to complete a task as directed by law (written by elected officials), no more. They aren’t running any sinister conspiracies, they just don’t have the time or the power.
Why then are they so feared? Aside from people who are just trying to scare others to sell books or air time, the “deep state” is something that people who want to rebuild the government in their own extreme vision despise for its tendency to sabotage extremism just by doing their mundane jobs competently.
Before the “deep state,” almost every government job was a political favor. The party in power could, and often did, replace huge numbers of people with people to whom they owed political favors, or to those who would blindly follow ideological orders. Parties could win power by promising thousands of office jobs to voters, whether they were qualified or not. They could intimidate people from other parties into staying home or voting for them out of fear that basic government services like police (who were themselves political appointees in some places), heat/gas or even water would be cut off if the dominant party held onto power (or inversely, they could be rewarded with better government services by keeping the dominant party in power). A series of government accountability, qualification barriers and layers of command, were put in place over several generations to insulate the civil service “deep state” from the elected government, ensuring that component civil servants would survive changes in elections and make sure that no party could wield the government as a bludgeon to force their will on the greater population. In other words, the deep state isn’t some evil force that seeks to use government to control us, they are a group of tired and underpaid yet qualified and diligent civil servants who protect us from government overreach simply by existing.