Deep State and the Rule of Law: Conversations around the Family Dining Table

I am solidly liberal by my family’s standards and we disagree on everything…until we start talking.  I’m finding that for the most part, people (brothers, sisters, nephews, …) don’t think things through.

For example, my nephew says there’s corruption on “both sides,” and brings up the “Deep State.”  I ask him what the Deep State is.  He says he’s not sure but part of it is how the government has people in it that are not in alignment with Trump and that is wrong, that they are still following policies put in place by Obama.

Because he is my nephew and I love him more so for that, I took the time to explain the difference between career bureaucrats and political appointees…that the career bureaucrats are hired for their education and experience related to the position/job title and are expected to perform their duties as laid out by the laws governing that position.  It is considered a permanent hire, hence the title, “Career bureaucrat.”

Department heads on the other hand, which are usually Cabinet Secretary positions, are political appointments made by the President.  The Department heads get to put political associates in top level positions in their departments but only so far down into each department.  (The real ‘politicians,’ or maybe ‘diplomats’ would be a better term here, are the highest-level career bureaucrats who must answer directly to the lowest-level  political appointee.)

So to answer my nephew’s cries of foul concerning the “deep state,” I was able to educate him that a career bureaucrat’s job is tricky: she has sworn to uphold the Constitution and that includes its laws, particularly the ones that define the role and purpose of her specific position.  For example, it was my job to ensure the quality and accuracy of weather observation data, to compile it, check it for errors, and make it available to the public.  This directive is by law.

Presidents can give directives on particulars that are not stated specifically in the laws and are not in conflict with the laws, but he or she cannot stop the task from being done or dictate the results or outcome…at least not by law.  That highest-level career bureaucrat must implement those directives while at the same time act as a buffer; the rest of the ‘bureau’ must be permitted to get their work done…get their lawful duties accomplished.

I was producing web-based climate data reports during the 1990s and into the early 2000’s.  When the Bush administration came in, I was given the directive to not use the words “global warming” or even “Climate change” in anything I wrote or on any graphic I produced.  I was only allowed to use words like “warming trends.”

I related this to my nephew and he took it all in; he remembered when I worked for the government.  He listened to all of it, and sat quietly (finally) with a different understanding of the ‘left,’ the ‘government,’ the ‘bureucracy,’ and even ‘deep state.’  For me, it was a civics lesson well worth telling.  Next time we will address another “big problem with liberals; they want to regulate everything.”  I left that for a future Sunday dinner.

But I did finish up with my nephew (over dessert) by pointing out that the reason so many migrants walk for weeks to get to America is because life in our country is relatively sane in comparison to the life they are leaving…and that it is because we have laws…we are ruled by laws…laws that state what is good behavior and state what is bad behavior.  The Founding Fathers and every President and Legislator since has had to decide which freedoms must be given up to preserve this sanity, to protect the individuals, and provide basic services…which is the role of government.

It isn’t easy because at the very bottom of all governmental decisions is the decision: what is good behavior and what is bad behavior…and today, our president’s opinion of what is good and what is bad differs from mine.  When asked, my nephew had to agree that the President has behaved ‘badly.’

In this day of lies and propaganda, conversations like this are necessary.  But they are also a joy…even when love and patience are met with more than a little youthful pushback and news-generated sound bites; we love each other and when I ask, “What exactly does that mean?” or “How’s that gonna work?” or “Has that been your experience?” he is open to hearing my explanations and the stories I tell because he trusts me.

If each of us spent the time to educate ourselves and just one person we know who doesn’t think things through, we could change the world.

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