Trump and the Shallow State

I experienced an awkward event today. It was almost an ambush. I sat down to write a snarky post about Trump’s allegations that he is being hounded by the Deep State. My idea was that Trump’s true preference is a Shallow State, maybe one layer deep. This would be the layer that he and his cronies controlled.

It’s a perfectly respectable point and the opposition of “Shallow State,” an expression no one uses, to “Deep State,” the heart of Trumpist apologetic, sounded pretty good to me. So what happened?
Well, I ran across an article by Robert B. Horowitz, published last year in the journal Policy Studies. Horowitz makes the same point I was making, but he draws the language out of Max Weber’s well-known essay “Politics as a Vocation.” As much as I like writing snarky political essays, Weber language is better, so I will just pass it along. Here is the first part of the abstract of Horowitz’s article.

“Donald Trump and his loyalists invoked the concept of the deep state when confronted with resistance to the president’s agenda. The hazy concept of the deep state was tied to the long-standing conservative critique of the administrative state and the growth of the federal bureaucracy. Together, they conveyed reproach that Trump was subverted by a shadowy network of unelected bureaucrats that illegitimately holds the levers of real power in the United States. But there is no deep state.”

Even if I didn’t accept the analysis in that paragraph, I would gladly celebrate the structure. Look at the three successive sentences; long, complex, and careful. “Donald Trump…invoked the concept;” then “The hazy concept…was tied;” then “Together they conveyed…” And then, like a single stroke on a tympani, “But there is no deep state.”

Lovely. Every now and then, I produce a paragraph like that and I just take the rest of the day off.

Then Horowitz begins to draw on Weber’s language. This kind of conflict, Weber says, is a familiar type. It is the conflict between liberal and populist conceptions of democracy. “Liberal democracy” is what the founders gave us. [1] The populist conception was very vividly enacted by the Trumpist mob who invaded the House of Representatives on the explicit grounds that it was the House that “belonged to “the people.”

Notice how stark the contrast is between the rationales. The Constitution specifies a way of electing a President. It is clunky and it over-represents rural areas, but it is the method they chose. American officeholders, state and federal, take their offices pledging to uphold the Constitution. When commentators accuse Trump of violating his oath of office by doing the things he did and by refusing to to the things he could have done, this is what they have in mind.

The populist rationale is that they don’t like the outcome and are therefore—therefore!!—not bound by it. They argue that in a democracy “the people” rule and they are the people.

Each of these perspectives has integrity because it is held together by a distinct ethic. Weber calls them, respectively, “an ethic of responsibility” and “an ethic of conviction.” [2] You see this ethic of responsibility when the D’s take over and begin passing programs and staffing agencies, as, for instance, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) just on the off chance that there might be more floods and tornadoes. You see this ethic of conviction when the raw power of a belief is held to substitute for the truth of it. The “truth” is in how strongly it is held.

That’s what’s really going on here. When the President calls the Secretary of State in Georgia and bases his demand on “All I need is another 10,800 votes,” we see the urgency of the desire overwhelming everything. And Secretary Raffensperger, whose oath required him to uphold the law (that’s the ethic of responsibility), was accused of disloyalty (that’s the ethic of conviction). The heart of the Trumpist charge against V. P. Mike Pence was that he had “let us down.”

I am grateful to Professor Horowitz for reminding me how clean and insightful Weber’s language is. I am unhappy with Horowitz only for depriving me of the transitory pleasure of today’s snarky essay on the Shallow State. Not a bad trade, really.

[1] They did not, of course, call it “democracy, a word that meant “mob rule” in the 18th Century. They called it a “republic.
[2] There is, in fact, a certain bleak humor in the possibility that the master of the ethic of conviction might actually be convicted. There are issues of justice there, but I am focusing on the simple pleasure of the overlapping meanings.

About hessd

Here is all you need to know to follow this blog. I am an old man and I love to think about why we say the things we do. I've taught at the elementary, secondary, collegiate, and doctoral levels. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. I have taught political science for a long time and have practiced politics in and around the Oregon Legislature. I don't think one is easier than another. They are hard in different ways. You'll be seeing a lot about my favorite topics here. There will be religious reflections (I'm a Christian) and political reflections (I'm a Democrat) and a good deal of whimsy. I'm a dilettante.
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