For most of the last three years, Donald Trump’s critics have scoffed at supposed “conspiracy theories” that claimed a “deep state” of bureaucrats were aborting the Trump presidency. We have been told the word “coup” is hyperbole that reveals the paranoid minds of Trump supporters.
Yet oddly, many people brag that they are proud members of a deep state and occasionally boast about the idea of a coup.
Recently, former acting CIA chief John McLaughlin proclaimed in a public forum, “Thank God for the deep state.” Former CIA Director John Brennan agreed and praised the “deep state people” for their opposition to Mr. Trump.
Far from denying the danger of an unelected careerist bureaucracy that seeks to overturn presidential policies, New York Times columnists have praised its efforts to nullify the Trump agenda.
On the first day of the impeachment inquiry, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called his initial two witnesses, career State Department diplomats William Taylor Jr. and George Kent. Far from providing damning evidence of criminal presidential behavior, Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent mostly confined themselves to three topics: Their own sterling resumes, their lack of any firsthand knowledge of incriminating Trump action, and their poorly hidden disgust with the manner and substance of President Trump’s foreign policy.
Oddly, both had little clue that their demeanor and thinly disguised self-importance were a perfect example of why Mr. Trump got elected — to come up with new ideas antithetical to the conventional wisdom of unelected career bureaucrats.
Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent announced that they are simply high-minded civil servants who serve the presidential administrations of both parties without bias.
But by nature, the huge federal bureaucracy counts on bigger government and more taxes to feed it. So naturally, the bureaucracy is usually more sympathetic to big-government progressives than to small-government conservatives.
Mr. Taylor and Mr. Kent cited their anguish with Mr. Trump’s foreign policy toward Ukraine — namely that it did not go through official channels and was too unsympathetic to Ukraine and too friendly to Russia. If so, one might have thought the anguished bureaucrats would have similarly gone public during the Obama administration.
After all, Vice President Joe Biden took over the Obama administration’s Ukrainian policy at a time when his son Hunter was knee-deep in Ukrainian affairs. As a consultant for a Ukrainian natural gas company, Hunter Biden made a reported $80,000 a month without expertise in either the energy business in particular or Ukraine in general.
Also, Mr. Trump’s policies have been more anti-Russian and pro-Ukrainian than those of the Obama administration. Mr. Trump armed the Ukrainians; Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Trump imposed new sanctions against Russia, used force against Russian mercenaries in Syria, beefed up NATO defenses, pulled the United States out of an asymmetrical missile treaty with Russia, and pumped more oil and gas to lower world prices — much to the chagrin of oil-exporting Russia.
In contrast, Mr. Obama was the architect of “reset” with Russia that reached its nadir in a hot mic exchange in which Mr. Obama offered a quid pro quo, vowing more flexibility on issues such as U.S.-sponsored missile defense in Eastern Europe in exchange for Russia giving Mr. Obama “space” to concentrate on his re-election.
Mr. Trump’s critics have also radically changed their spin on “coups.” To them, “coup” is no longer a dirty word trafficked in by right-wing conspiracists. Instead, it has been normalized as a possibly legitimate means of aborting the Trump presidency.
Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the Ukraine whistleblower, boasted in two recently discovered tweets of ongoing efforts to stage a coup to remove Mr. Trump: “coup has started. First of many steps. rebellion. impeachment will follow,” Mr. Zaid tweeted in January 2017. Later the same month, he tweeted: “coup has started. As one falls, two more will take their place.”
Retired Adm. William H. McRaven recently wrote an op-ed for The New York Times all but calling for Mr. Trump’s ouster “the sooner the better.”
No sooner had Mr. Trump been elected than Rosa Brooks, a former Defense Department official during the Obama administration, wrote an essay for Foreign Policy magazine discussing theoretical ways to remove Mr. Trump before the 2020 election, among them a scenario involving a military coup.
In September 2018, The New York Times published an op-ed from an anonymous White House official who boasted of supposedly widescale efforts inside the Trump administration to nullify its operations and subvert presidential directives.
Such efforts to oppose Mr. Trump are often self-described as “The Resistance,” a reference to the underground French fighters resisting the Nazis in World War II.
Mr. Trump’s opponents often have praised the deep state precisely because unelected career officials are seen as the most effective way to sabotage and stymie his agenda.
A “coup” is no longer proof of right-wing paranoia, but increasingly a part of the general progressive discourse of resistance to Mr. Trump.
In these upside-down times, patriotism is being redefined as removing a president before a constitutionally mandated election.
• Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, is the author of “The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won” (Basic Books, 2017).