On January 2, 2018, Virginia Senator Mark Warner released a tweet saying, “Slandering the Department of Justice’s career law enforcement and intel professionals as the 'deep state' — whatever that actually means — is dangerous and unpresidential.”
It was only one of the more recent uses of the phrase, but one of the first to include the cautionary comment “whatever that actually means.”
As with "The Swamp", Warner’s implicit question here is sound and almost impossible to answer.
Warner’s tweet came a few hours after President Donald Trump, in one of his many tweets, referred to the “Deep State Justice Dept”. His former presidential campaign opponent Evan McMullin prompted tweeted that “Saying nothing of the fact that the 'Deep State Justice Department' is run by Trump’s own appointees, his effort to use its power to punish his political rivals and protect him from law enforcement is an abuse of power.”
So again, what is the Deep State?
The Deep State Twitter handle defines it as “typically influential members of government agencies or the military to be involved in the secret manipulation or control of government policy.” Meaning … the Trump Administration?
Radio talker Rush Limbaugh has called it “embeds in the deep state at the Pentagon, State Department, various intelligence agencies.” (That has an ominous ring, no doubt intentionally: These people are embeds reporting back and responsible to, who exactly? That’s left unsaid.)
Writing in Politico, Michael Crowley argued that “The Deep State is real,” noted that “Political scientists and foreign policy experts have used the term deep state for years to describe individuals and institutions who exercise power independent of—and sometimes over—civilian political leaders.” For decades the concept, if not the exact phrase, was more commonplace on the left than on the right.
In fact, he said, “Tufts University international law professor Michael J. Glennon’s 2014 book, National Security and Double Government. Glennon observed that Obama had campaigned against Bush-era surveillance and security policies in 2008 but acquiesced to many of them as president—suggesting a national-security apparatus that holds sway even over the elected leaders notionally in charge of it.”
There is something here: Institutions like individual people do tend to fight back when they’re assaulted, and that Trump Administration has seen a good deal of that dynamic. But remember that government, even the federal government and even its institutional agencies, aren’t monochrome, and the people in them might devil George W. Bush in one administration, Barack Obama in another and Donald Trump in a third. It’s part of the normal dynamic, not a matter of “embeds” or conspiracies.
Whether that’s right or wrong can depend on where you sit, ideologically. But there’s nothing “deep” about it.