[Note: Another day, another posting written before the bombshell item. But again, still relevant in its own way. Also, one of the first things I wrote here was about the problem called “Trump opens his mouth and says stuff.” Now it might be his best defense.]
Amid the controversy over Pres. Trump apparently divulging sensitive intelligence to Russia (and whether it was “appropriate,” as National Security Adviser McMaster claims, despite unanswered questions), Trump and his defenders naturally want to focus on the leakers. That’s fine; I am hard pressed to recall a President who did not become furious over leaks or one that was very successful in stopping them or changing the subject to them.
These events however, bring Trump supporters back around to the concern that the “Deep State” will undermine or bring down the legitimately elected government. As it turns out, one of the leakers in this case reportedly has been a Trump supporter, but the general anxiety over a silent coup is getting aired once again.
One problem is that the Deep State is enabled in part by the Not-So-Deep State, by which I mean Pres. Trump.
Is “not so deep” a harsh characterization? Well, the calls are coming from inside the White House:
“In private, three administration officials conceded that they could not publicly articulate their most compelling — and honest — defense of the president: that Mr. Trump, a hasty and indifferent reader of printed briefing materials, simply did not possess the interest or knowledge of the granular details of intelligence gathering to leak specific sources and methods of intelligence gathering that would do harm to United States allies.”
I have yet to see any pushback on any of the other stories that National Security Council staff members have been advised that Trump’s briefings should be no more than one page and should include graphics, maps and bullet points.
Trump’s proclivity for the simplified likely means that the quantity and quality of the intell he receives is highly filtered and controlled by the NSC at a minimum. It is probably not a huge leap to speculate that one result of this incident will be that the flow of intell to the White House will be even more tightly controlled by the CIA and NSA (and FBI in natsec cases, I suppose).
In this way, Trump’s apparent lack of interest opens the door for the Deep State to unduly influence his thinking.
It would be fair to argue that this possibility should be concerning to people. But this is part of Trump’s method of operation. He delegates. He seems to delegate more than perhaps any President I have seen, with the possible exception of Reagan.
After all, one of the widespread pieces of praise Trump has received has been for the selection of his national security and foreign policy team (excepting the quickly-departed Mike Flynn). And those paying attention cannot have helped but noticed that Trump is not always on the same page as the consensus positions of his cabinet and top advisers. Indeed, I suspect that more often that not, people are reassured that Trump’s cabinet frequently seems to be running the show.
Of course, Trump’s cabinet members were effectively selected by him, while the bureaucrats of the Deep State presumably are not in most cases. But when the cabinet proceeds in ways at odds with Trump’s statements as a candidate and as President, the line between the cabinet and their subordinates may be less clear than we like to pretend when we want to comfort ourselves.
Nature abhors a vacuum. So does government. A government led by the Not-So-Deep State invites others to exercise that power, and to influence its exercise.
Update: That people like Ross Douthat are now debating the 25th Amendment as a vehicle to remove Trump (whether you take it seriously or not; I don’t) only underscores the risk of a President who is so disconnected from his or her cabinet.
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