The Deep State and the Ratchet: How Power inside the US Government really works
As the Biden administration attempted to create its own Ministry of Truth with the Disinformation Governance Board this month, it was common to hear conservatives and Republicans saying things like “just wait until President Trump or President DeSantis is the one appointing the head of that agency, then you’ll be sorry.” The underlying assumption is that, once the administration changes, the natural pendulum swing of democracy will act to punish the Left for overreaching and consolidating government power while in office. But that’s a common and very serious error in understanding how power really works inside the American government.
We are taught that the natural ebb and flow of electoral politics acts as a safeguard against tyranny; that a cost will be paid by the Left if they accrue too much power to themselves while in charge because, eventually, they will have to hand the apparatus they constructed back over to their enemies. Once the machinery of state is in the hands of their opponents, conservatives believe, the Left will finally be punished and realize their mistake, which will temper their desire to gain power the next time. The fear of a weapon in the hands of the enemy is supposed to govern the desire to wield it yourself. Self-preservation limits the aspirations of the country’s ruling class.
This check and balance that the mechanism of democracy is meant to provide may have functioned at some point in the country’s past, but that’s not how the United States government actually operates today. The majority of our government’s day-to-day decisions are not made by the legislature or even the President. The elected officeholder is not even the one regularly exercising discretion. Today, those decisions are handled by the technocracy, which is safely tucked away in our government agencies, i.e. the permanent bureaucracy that has come to be known as the deep state.
Advanced liberal democracies like to maintain the myth of ‘objective public policy’. This fallacious belief rests on the assumption that, by utilizing the bureaucratic expertise of credentialed experts, we can arrive at an objective and value-neutral solution for government policy that is guarded against the ugly bias of purely political actors. The public has been taught to love the idea of getting the politics out of things and letting scientifically-minded people make data-driven decisions. But this is a sleight of hand. Whenever someone proposes to have decisions become ‘less political’, i.e. to be made by the experts, what they are actually doing is handing more power over to the bureaucrats in the deep state, which are their own political class holding similar views.
To be credentialed as an ‘expert’ today, and thus qualify to work within the bureaucracy, you must attend university. The more prestigious, and most likely progressive, the university you obtain your degree from, the higher you are likely to climb in the deep state. What this means is that every boss and coworker who a bureaucrat needs to interact with and impress to climb the ladder was required in his or her formative years to absorb the morality of increasingly radical college professors. In other words, it is in the nature of the deep state to select those who constantly signal the virtues of the woke institution, which will one day inevitably go on to inform all of their day-to-day policy decisions.
Whenever the Left consolidates power and creates a new agency, it is immediately staffed with diehard progressive bureaucrats. In many cases, it is literally required by law that experts be placed in key positions of authority, who are all but guaranteed to be leftwing zealots. And the vast majority of this staff does not rotate out or get laid off when a Republican administration or legislature comes to power. Protected by their status as credentialed experts, the ideological foot soldiers of the bureaucracy stay firmly entrenched in the deep state. That’s why things always seem to sprint left when progressives are in charge and at best grind to a halt when the GOP has its turn at the wheel.
We are still told that our government operates by the formal dictates outlined in the Constitution — checks and balances carefully designed to limit the power any one side can wield while in office. But that is no longer the case. In our desire to remove politics from public policy decisions we have replaced our constitutional republic with governance by technocracy, i.e. governance by the deep state. And the deep state is a ratchet: it only moves in one direction because that is what it is designed to do. The deep state ensures that our government, if it moves at all, always moves to the left, especially when it is gaining power. This is why the Right has a very difficult time establishing lasting change in the permanent machinery of Washington. By controlling the institutions that credential bureaucrats, the Left controls the ideology that will guide the decisions of the technocracy, no matter who ‘officially’ controls it.
We have been told that the education and training which credentials someone to the level of ‘expert’ grants the recipient a natural dedication to their craft that protects them from personal bias. Experts place the integrity of their work over personal partisan concerns, that’s what is supposed to make them so valuable. But it is increasingly obvious that this is not the case. The disasters of the Biden administration of the past two years have made more and more clear to the average person how all these “experts” do not actually hold any kind of sacred gift for objectivity. Not only does being educated in, and dedicated to, a particular field not free you from political bias, but it instead guarantees a particular form of bias.
The official response to Covid by many different Western governments provides a perfect example. Prior to the pandemic, there was no issue experts were more trusted to handle than public health. If a strange new disease is sweeping the globe, you want the world’s best doctors leading the charge. And so most people happily placed their faith in highly-credentialed bureaucrats to manage the Covid response. But it wasn’t long before people started noticing how the public health establishment’s decision seemed to have very little connection to the actual science. The WHO praised China’s management of the disease despite its obvious and repeated lies about the origin and spread of the pathogen; experts in America initially claimed that masks had little to no impact but then spent months advocating for mandatory masking; social distancing was said to be a precaution and people were forced to stay indoors – until the BLM riots in the summer of 2020 when medical experts suddenly claimed mass gatherings had no impact on the spread of the virus, and so on.
The idea that the Left will pay a cost for centralizing more government power once Republicans return to the driver’s seat, is a myth. The battle the Right is fighting both culturally and politically is an asymmetrical one. Until we understand that, we are destined to keep standing bewildered as the losses for our side continue to pile up. Yes, Republicans have become a lot more optimistic lately about their prospects in upcoming elections. Approval numbers for Joe Biden have cratered, and so many on the Right expect a significant electoral backlash due to the horrific job done by Democrat Party since 2020. But any future leader on the Right who is serious about fixing our problems must start by aiming to dismantle the administrative state, clear out the entrenched bureaucracy, and return power back to an executive who can actually govern the country. Anyone who isn’t planning to do that is only wasting our time.