James Comey
Credit: Rich Girard/Flickr

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not generally been a fan of what is colloquially known as the “deep state.” The ponderous bureaucracy of economic, intelligence and military professionals in the nation’s capital tends to be averse to change and deeply committed to Washington Consensus policy, which essentially means enforcing a loose Pax Americana along market-oriented lines, often via coercive military and economic aggression on behalf of corporate interests. Those instincts have led to enormous foreign and economic policy blunders, shocking moral outrages and breathtaking blowback, nor is it always clear whether the President or the unelected bureaucrats are driving the policy. Our 45th president is not the first to grow frustrated about feeling undermined by the agencies over which he is supposed to be in control, which is an uncomfortable situation for a supposedly democratic country to be in. The “deep state” is, to use academic parlance, deeply problematic.

That said, the benefits of a stable and loyal (if often misguided and self-interested) bureaucracy come sharply into focus when a dangerously corrupted incompetent is in civilian leadership.

The United States is currently being led by a president who has demonstrated little capacity for restraint and even less interest in policy or diplomacy. Worse, he owes his very office to the unprecedented electoral interference of a hostile power with which members of his campaign are strongly suspected to have colluded.

We have no way of knowing what exactly took place in yesterday’s long meeting between our president and the man responsible for making him our president. But what little we do know indicates that the American president’s foreign dictator and benefactor came out by far the winner in the exchange. This is doubly alarming as both men understand political negotiation only in terms of the raw power dynamics of dominance and submission–and it is quite clear that the American president wore his master’s leash. He even offered to share cybersecurity data in alliance with the cybersecurity foe who just hacked us. It would be as if Game of Thrones‘ long-suffering Stark family were to propose starting a wedding catering business with Walder Frey.

Americans cannot trust our Commander-in-Chief to defend us in this context, and there is no 2nd Amendment for infrastructure and online security that would even begin to enable us to defend ourselves.

We must at this point put our faith and trust in the longtime civil servants who, though they serve at the president’s will, still have the country’s best interests at heart as they understand it.

Again, this is problematic. Consider the case of former FBI Director James Comey, whose resistance to the president’s blatant attempts to obstruct justice have made him a folk hero among many liberals. This is the same James Comey who appears to have put the institutional and political interest of the FBI itself over that of the country at large when he chose to overdisclose vaporous negative information about Hillary Clinton while concealing bombshell information about her opponent. Comey evidently believed that Clinton would win anyway, and that his actions would limit Republican aggression against the FBI. Oops.

Comey’s pre-election actions serve as a warning about giving too much power to the institutional company men and women of the deep state. But his actions post-election serve as a reminder that, flawed as they may be, we need them now more than ever.

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Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.