The Deep State was an invention of the Trump crime family. They needed someone to frame for their crimes, and government workers made a convenient scapegoat.
It was a sly piece of rebranding, part of Steve Bannon’s noxious legacy. Through sheer force of rhetoric, he turned the federal bureaucracy — that staid, non-partisan synonym for boring — into a sinister, mustache-twirling villain.
The people who inhabit that bureaucracy are, of course, anything but sinister. They’re career civil servants, people with granular knowledge of the inner workings of government. People more or less dedicated to their work despite meagre pay and austere workspaces. People who’ve signed on to help keep their country on an even keel, even in trying times. To Trump and his accomplices, this just makes them losers.
By labeling it the Deep State, the Trumpies can shift any blame for their own criminality onto anyone who stands up and says Hey, something smells here. Or Hey, my boss is breaking the law. Or Hey, this isn’t where this check is supposed to go. Risking their careers in the process.
Which brings me to what we might call the Shallow State. Not shallow in the sense of intellectually limited, though that is certainly apt. No, I refer instead to that thin, shallow layer of so-called leadership — a mere two or three levels at the top of the org chart — that is now running every federal agency. Or not running it. Or nominally running it. Or looting it.
The Shallow State sits ponderously on top of the Deep State, and the rot trickles down. The “hollowing out” of departments we keep hearing about is really a purge, a systematic removal of professional public servants. People who know stuff, monitor stuff, oversee stuff, enforce stuff. All these people must go, to make government safe for grifters and scoundrels.
The Shallow State is not large, but it is powerful. It consists mostly of senior-level functionaries, selected for their jobs solely on the basis of their loyalty to Trump. Neither competence nor honesty are in the job description.
But right now, they’ve got a problem that their business model can’t accommodate. Namely, a pandemic that has, quite inconveniently, killed close to 50,000 of our citizens (maybe double that by the time you read this). Which is not a situation where incompetence can be fully savored.
So it’s hard for them to bluff their way out of this one, try as they might. Somebody, after all, has to do some actual work. Somebody has to pull the levers of government so we can do things like, say, save lives or prop up the economy or something. And the people who know how to do those things are instead being scapegoated.
You would think these Shallow Staters might value the help of people who could make them appear less incompetent, especially with death closing in on all sides. But no, they have nothing but contempt for them. People who know stuff never get the respect of people who steal stuff.
The contempt starts at the top, of course. Trump has spent his whole life fighting off one government agency or another, and he’s highly adept at monetizing incompetence. As is demonstrated by his deft use of “actings.”
The actings — as in Acting Secretary of Whatever — are the corrupt stooges now sitting in far too many positions, from cabinet level down. They will always be acting (in more ways than one), since they haven't been confirmed by the Senate. Which they never will be, because they’re too vile even for this deeply compromised Senate. Many of them come from the very industries they’re now being paid to regulate. Foxes with a premium view of the henhouse.
Beneath the actings, I don’t know how deep into the org chart the Shallow State goes before it scrapes against someone capable. I’m sure it varies from agency to agency. But wherever the line is drawn, there’s a wide attitudinal gap between the corrupt leadership of the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy itself. The bureaucrats — the so-called Deep State (think of them as the good guys) — just want to do the job, get the country through this obscene pandemic, and get on with their lives. The Shallow State has only one imperative: get Trump re-elected at any cost. Their futures are at stake. They might never work again. They might face criminal indictments. You might say they’re motivated.
But you see their dilemma. Since the Shallow State has no idea how to do anything — let alone steer the government through a catastrophic pandemic — they are forced to rely on people they despise. Meanwhile those same despised good guys — appalled, resentful, tempted to quit — will drag feet, blow whistles, and otherwise make these fools look foolish. They will become, ironically, the embodiment of Bannon’s original rhetoric.
In other words, the Deep State, which was never more than just a creepy label, never existed in the real world. But thanks to the Shallow State, it does now.