By Jackson Richman
Throughout the Trump presidency, there is a notion of a “deep state,” undermining his agenda. While there may be internal bureaucratic resistance every now and then, this label is a broad brush regarding the federal bureaucracy and those who work in government overall.
Tevi Troy, who served as President George Bush’s Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, put it best on how there is, to an extent, federal bureaucratic resistance:
There have been many occasions when careers resist excessive action by Democrats and support proposals coming from a Republican president. They may like the Democrats better on the whole. Few would deny that. But to the extent that career officials display a bias in the transmission of their duties, it tends to be not in favor of their political parties but instead in favor of the prerogatives of their agency.
What does this mean? Career officials do not want to see their agencies embarrassed and so will typically resist or argue against actions that can be seen to discredit or harm the reputations of their agencies. They do not want to see the power of their agencies diminished, so they will resist actions that favor another agency over their own. And they believe in the mission of their agencies, so they want the agencies to continue carrying out that mission.
(Disclosure: I worked for Troy’s think tank, the American health Policy Institute, in the fall of 2016.)
Anyone, especially bureaucrats, can have opinions. What matters is whether their viewpoints interfere with their duties. FBI agents Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, whose text message exchanges revealed their disdain for Trump, let their bias overshadow their responsibilities.
Nonetheless, like any institution, such as law enforcement, the actions of a few, while they may significantly impact their respective agency, should not be the burden of many. Therefore, Strzok and Page’s actions do not necessarily characterize all FBI employees. Such isolated cases must be handled accordingly and without fanfare.
Federal institutions, while they should be routinely criticized, should not be demonized with a broad brush, especially regarding their employees. James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 47, “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, selfappointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.” Hence, all parts of the federal government are necessary, regardless of a few bad apples.
Otherwise, ruling by fiat takes a deep bite out of the separation of powers.
Overall, while there is bureaucratic resistance, to paint all federal employees as complicit in bad behavior, such as undermining the president, is irresponsible and disrespectful of their public service. This debate exemplifies the need to be rational and not emotional.