Enter the Disrupter

Victor Davis Hanson // National Review

No one in Washington called Donald J. Trump a “god” (as journalist Evan Thomas in 2009 had suggested of Obama) when he arrived in January 2017. No one felt nerve impulses in his leg when Trump talked, as journalist Chris Matthews once remarked had happened to him after hearing an Obama speech. And no newsman or pundit cared how crisply creased were Trump’s pants, at least in the manner that New York Times columnist David Brooks had once praised Obama’s sartorial preciseness. Instead, Trump was greeted by the Washington media and intellectual establishment as if he were the first beast in the book of Revelation, who arose “out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy.”

Besides the Washington press and pundit corps, Donald Trump faced this third and more formidable opponent: the culture of permanent and senior employees of the federal and state governments, and the political appointees in Washington who revolve in and out from business, think tanks, lobbying firms, universities, and the media. Or as the legal scholar of the administrative state Philip Hamburger put it: “Although the United States remains a republic, administrative power creates within it a very different sort of government. The result is a state within the state — an administrative state within the Constitution’s United States.” The power of the deep state was twofold: it had the unlimited resources of government at its call in any fight against individuals. And it knew how government worked and could be manipulated far better than the citizens whom it supposedly for a brief time served.

In theory, the deep state we have described should have been a nonpartisan meritocratic cadre of government officials who were custodians of a civil service that had often served Americans well and transcended changes in presidential administrations. The ranks of top government regulators, justices, executive officers, and bureaucrats would take advice, and often be drawn, from hallowed East Coast, supposedly apolitical institutions — the World Bank, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Federal Reserve, the Ivy League faculties, Wall Street, and the blue-chip Washington and New York law firms.

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