“Deep state” and other political myths we believe

People can mistake politicians’ bluster for boldness and wisdom.  Making political assertions without substance has created myths often mistaken for political truth.  Time for some myth-busting.

The “deep state” is running the country, according to one myth.  The country is secretly under the control of unseen, unelected people.  Who are they?  Powerful corporations and faceless bureaucrats supposedly carry out their own policies, undermining the government.

In a free market system, major decisions have always been made by major players, not only the government.  In fact, when the government steps back from acting, it intentionally leaves decisions to the market place, dominated by corporations.  They are seldom held politically accountable.

As for professional public employees, they provide experience about the possible effects of government action.  But that does not give them the power of decision.  Beyond that, Congress delegates much of its powers, making regulators into almost invisible legislators.

In short, the “deep state” is largely an intentional and open creation of the government.  The answers to the “deep state” are “transparency” and “drain the swamp.”

“Transparency” supposedly means government in the sunlight.  But the continual efforts of elected officials, let alone the “deep state,” to keep secrets make “transparency” a sham.  It produces government in the shade.  If the media digs for the facts, “transparency” is labeled as “fake news.”

To “drain the swamp,” elected leaders would need to regain control of public affairs by getting rid of interest groups and bureaucrats who pursue their own agendas.  They pollute government and influence policy contrary to the broader popular will.

Just how to drain them out remains unclear.  Political leaders often do unseen favors for friendly interests that support them.  So, just who constitutes the “swamp” may change over time, but its level never subsides.

The “swamp” may simply be evidence that governing has become a far more complex task in the modern world.  That could create the impression that government is mired in a mess of its own creation.  In a democracy, efficient operation may be too much to expect.

So, reward the people’s hopes for draining the “swamp” by giving them less government or, better still, less democracy.

When an official is caught violating the law or long-standing political understandings, they defend their actions, saying, “Well, they did the same thing.”  They justify their miscues by pointing out that the opposition performed similarly when it held office.

The parallel with the past may not be accurate, but it whitewashes the violation.  This is the “two wrongs make a right” approach to government.  Precedent, no matter how objectionable, somehow authorizes today’s misdeeds.

This rule inevitably leads to a downward spiral in governing standards that can end up with no laws or rules that need to be respected.  These days, the U.S. seems to be on that spiral.

The problem with this country is “excessive partisanship.”  Most people understand that the American system is intended to work through a conflict of partisan views on public policy.  The “excessive” part comes from unwillingness to compromise, the essential element when two parties share control.

These kneejerk reactions grow out of a view that the other side must be defeated, either because it is always wrong or morally defective.  That kind of bitter partisanship may be gaining, though it is not the majority position.

It also results from “style over substance.”  Some voters like politicians pandering to them in lurid language on wedge issues.  On closer look, they may be giving candidates a blank check to pursue a wider range of issues that are actually contrary to the voters’ interests.

We may hope that the untapped army of “moderates” will flex its political muscle and restore a spirit of compromise.  In reality, if you scratch a “moderate,” you find a partisan.  People may support liberal or conservative candidates or proposals from time to time, but that does not make them moderate on any single issue.

The questionable validity of polls and pundits has previously been discussed in this space.  Polls are meant to be an exercise in statistical sampling, but often are not.  Pundits speculate uselessly about events that will take place soon enough that we don’t need their predictions.

We may favor leaders who “talk my language” and make bold decisions instead of listening to the “deep state” or relying on “experts.”  Instant policy via tweets replaces careful preparation and analysis of the consequences.  “They talk my language” often turns out to be “shoot from the lip.”

Today, we live by such myths.  Maybe we shouldn’t.

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.