"The Deep State" Similar Political Terms

If you want to know the big story among the right at this moment, this is it:

CNN: Exclusive: Former FBI lawyer under investigation after allegedly altering document in 2016 Russia probe

A former FBI lawyer is under criminal investigation after allegedly altering a document related to 2016 surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser, several people briefed on the matter told CNN.

The possibility of a substantive change to an investigative document is likely to fuel accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that the FBI committed wrongdoing in its investigation of connections between Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign. After CNN first reported on the investigation, the Washington Post reported that the inspector general concluded the alteration did not change the validity of the surveillance application.

The media is really a marvelous thing, when you stop and consider it. An FBI lawyer edited documents to spy on the Trump campaign, and the real problem here is that this will "fuel accusations" that "the FBI committed wrongdoing". Yeah, wrongdoing tends to fuel accusations of wrongdoing. The quoted portion above says that "the alteration did not change the validity of the surveillance application," but then a few sentences later:

. . .

You cannot understand right-wing politics in America today if you don't appreciate this sense of being aggrieved against by the "deep state". More than almost any other issue the factions of the right are united by a sense that our government is deeply corrupt and out of control.

During the George W. Bush administration conservatives were railing against anyone who didn't automatically buy whatever line the CIA/FBI/The Military, etc. was putting out regarding terrorist activity/Iraq/Afghanistan, etc. During the Obama administration conservatives were complaining about how none of these institutions had any respect for the president because he represented the old opposition that was skeptical of them and didn't give 100% support. These days an elected official can go beyond his authority to withhold federally appropriated aid because a foreign official doesn't want to play ball and launch an investigation into an American political rival and conservatives will defend the appropriateness of that official's actions to the death.

Sometimes when two people are publicly debating them and the first one makes an argument that the second one cannot easily counter, the second one will spit out a catchphrase that's effectively just an applause line for that debater's ingroup rather than engage the actual argument. The left commonly does that with "white privilege"; A will make an argument, B will counter that A only thinks that way because of his white privilege, and the argument is effectively over so far as B's ingroup is concerned. The right has its own version of these, and "deep state" is one of them.

The "deep state" was created in the late 19th century. For the country's first hundred or so years all Federal employees were indirectly employees of the administration, and the president had the power to appoint and fire pretty much any of them. But there was a huge opportunity for corruption; it became common for presidential administrations (particularly the Grant Administration) to use the power of these low-level appointments to punish political enemies and reward political friends. A series of reforms led to the creation of the Civil Service, the goal being to ensure that lower-level positions were filled based on merit rather than political affiliation. When people say "deep state" they're really just referring to the Civil Service. The president can appoint high-level leadership positions, but any government agency is going to require a huge number of permanent employees beyond the administration's control to carry out day to day operations. Occasionally one of these permanent employees is going to make a decision that runs counter to the president's interest, and there is little to nothing the president can do about it, since civil service employees can't be fired for political reasons. So any time the president's agenda is thwarted by the actions of a civil service employee, conservatives don't consider the reasons behind that employee's actions, because it's easier to just say "deep state" and end the argument right there.

The irony, of course, is that what conservatives call the deep state was originally set up to protect against corruption. There are legitimate arguments about the proper role of government functionaries who operate beyond the administration's direct control, and whether they exercise an undue amount of influence over government. But it's hard to take deep state arguments seriously when no one making them is thoughtful enough to look at the history of the civil service and ask if corruption would really be lower if the president had unilateral authority to hire or fire anyone he wanted to. Combine this with, as I pointed out in the first paragraph, that conservatives are only concerned about corruption when it suits them, I'm highly skeptical that there's any real concern about the deep state.