Even this most impulsive of presidents depends on subordinates to carry out his mercurial will.
The daily news shows the struggles that go on in the White House itself and at the top of executive agencies. Here we have political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president, but each of whom has his or her own agenda. Call them Barons. They try to convince the president to adopt their agenda. Senior adviser Stephen Miller, for example has so far successfully led Trump into a radically anti-immigrant stance. And we saw it just this week as hawks like National Security Adviser John Bolton maneuvered Trump into ordering air strikes on Iran — until the president balked at the last minute and reverted to intensifying sanctions instead.
Beneath the headlines, we’ve seen recently how two distinct types of subordinates operate. There are first the Apparatchiks, who like their Soviet precursors, just follow orders and do so enthusiastically. And then there are those that the likes of Breitbart like to call the Deep State, officials who have an agenda distinct from and perhaps antagonistic toward the president’s agenda.
There appears to be a high concentration of career and political personnel in this shop who are deeply enthusiastic about Trump’s anti-immigrant rants. When he says “Build the Wall,” they ask “How high?”
The best current example of Apparatchiks is found in ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There appears to be a high concentration of career and political personnel in this shop who are deeply enthusiastic about Trump’s anti-immigrant rants. When he says “Build the Wall,” they ask “How high?” When he charges that everyone seeking asylum at the southern border is engaged in a scam, they are eager to do whatever they can to discourage them, including separating children from parents and then housing the children in what have aptly been called concentration camps. Indeed their enthusiasm for this mission is so extreme that Trump may from time to time have to call them off when their excesses make him look bad. They are his pit bulls.
Apparatchiks are the ideal bureaucrats: their values, their concerns are so close to the president’s that they are extensions of his will. Different presidents will have this sort of relationship with different bureaucrats. Obama, for example, had this sort of bond with the staff of the Environmental Protection Agency. With ICE, not so much, though Obama was actually pretty tough on immigration.
Then there are bureaucrats who are actually horrified at the orders coming out the White House, who are legally bound to obey those orders, but who do all they can to inflect the policy more favorably (from their point of view), to delay, to complicate. They are the Deep State. Their mission is to keep policy and programs in their area as stable as possible, no matter the short term whims of the president. For Trump, having gutted the EPA, perhaps the best example is the State Department, all those people who labor to maintain our alliances as Trump tries to blow them up, who work to keep up a strong and consistent policy front against our adversaries even as Trump assiduously cultivates leaders like Putin and Kim. For Obama, ICE was of the Deep State.
The people of the Deep State are a major reason why no president can actually effect a clean, radical change of direction, no matter what they have promised in their campaigns.
[dc]E[/dc]very presidency witnesses these sorts of internecine struggles, but they seem more intense under Trump, perhaps because he is so impulsive as to be unpredictable. If he has a master strategy it is to keep everyone guessing. No one owns him. Except maybe Putin.