Credit should go to Michael McFaul for letting the cat out of the bag.
Or maybe, we should say, that McFaul, an anti-Trump Democrat who’s a fixture on cable news, has just let the State out of the Deep. That is, he has made the Deep State into the Obvious State.
And now, of course, we have the latest surfacing of the Deep State, in the form of whoever, or whatever, leaked what are said to President Trump’s tax returns to the New York Times. The Times assures us that whoever had the returns in the first place had them “legally,” but didn’t say anything about the legality of the transmittal of them to the Times—that’s certainly highly illegal. So maybe that’s the point: The Deep State is becoming the Obvious State—it doesn’t worry so much anymore about staying hidden.
Yet still, maybe we should start with McFaul, because he is a sort of go-between shuttling back and forth between secretive meetings and his TV appearances.
Back on September 4—a few bombshell crises ago, McFaul tweeted, “Trump has lost the Intelligence Community. He has lost the State Department. He has lost the military. How can he continue to serve as our Commander in Chief?” The tweet has since been deleted, although it still abides on the Internet, as does everything else, somewhere in the web’s dark realms. Indeed, Virgil, who knows a lot about nether places, can’t help but be reminded of the famous quote from classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft: “That is not dead which can eternal lie/ And with strange aeons even death may die.” In other words, nothing will stay dead, or hidden, forever.
In fact, if we parse McFaul’s words, we can see that he made at least something of a threat against President Trump. That is, McFaul was saying that if the top echelons of the federal government’s national security apparatus are hostile to Trump, then he can’t be the president anymore. To put McFaul’s argument another way, if the president and top national security officials are at odds, then it’s Trump who should go, not the national security officials.
McFaul’s tweet provoked a strong reaction from conservatives who noted its anti-constitutional assumptions—that “natsec” careerists could fire Trump, as opposed to the other way around. Michael Brendan Dougherty commented, “Imagine saying out loud that the Intelligence Community outranks the United States in a presidential election.” Meanwhile, Gray Connolly added, “These are the real electoral colleges that matter!” Connolly was being snarky, of course, and in so doing, he only underscored the extra-legal strangeness of McFaul’s tweet.
For his part, Virgil, old Roman that he is, got a particular kick out out of a barb from law professor Adrian Vermeule: “I tweeted a joke about CENTCOM acclaiming a new Vespasian and then…” The joke here is that Vespasian was an ancient Roman general who was fighting in the Middle East when he saw a chance to seize the throne of the whole Roman Empire—and so he did. And CENTCOM, of course, is the name of the Pentagon’s “combatant command” for the Middle East. So Vermeule was joking that, under McFaul’s scenario, a general from CENTCOM would get the Vespasian-ish idea of returning from the hinterlands to conquer the capital and thereby seize power.
We might note that on paper, at least, McFaul is no flake; he is well wired in the national security “community.” He served as an aide in Barack Obama’s National Security Council, and then was appointed by Obama to be U.S. ambassador to Russia. Nowadays, he’s a professor at Stanford, works on many boards and commissions, and is regularly seen on MSNBC. So most likely, yes, McFaul knows many national security officials who detest Trump. And yet interestingly, these officials inside the government are not putting their own names next to their anti-Trump actions; that is, they are operating anonymously, sniping at Trump via friendly tweeters, reporters, and book publishers.
Such anonymous operations are, of course, the essence of the Deep State. That term is a catchall for the subterranean machinations of activists within the federal government, as well of closely associated contractors, consultancies, and vendors. Typically, these people stay in their jobs even when the presidency changes hands, and so over time, of course, they develop their own worldview; one might even say that they share a class interest, befitting people who live off of government money—and like it that way.
So can we say of these people that they have a common political ideology? Or even a common partisanship? Are they all Democrats? To be sure, all the Members of Congress representing the District of Columbia and suburban Maryland and Virginia are Democrats, and yet these days, that’s true of the representatives for almost all big cities and many suburbs. So what’s safer to say is that Deep Statists share a communal opinion about the status quo—they like the standard operating procedure. And so Trump, the self-declared disruptive swamp-drainer, was hardly going to be popular with these swamp-dwellers.
In fact, Virgil has been chronicling the Deep State for a long time; back on December 12, 2016, his first piece on the topic was headlined, “The Deep State vs. Donald Trump.” As Virgil wrote then, “The term ‘Deep State’ refers to the complex of bureaucrats, technocrats, and plutocrats that likes things just the way they are and wants to keep them like that—elections be damned.” That still sounds right; in the meantime, Virgil has written dozens of articles for Breitbart News on the Deep State.
Indeed, if we focus on its foreign-policy and national-security wings, it’s evident that, recently, Trump has taken actions that have greatly disturbed Deep Statists. You see, Trump is finally starting to make good on his promise to withdraw America from “endless wars,” including the no-win conflict in Afghanistan.
On July 27, Trump named Douglas McGregor, a decorated combat veteran who has turned critical of interventionism, to be our ambassador to Germany. Indeed, on August 27, a Trump appointee as the former ambassador to Germany, Ric Grenell, spoke to the Republican National Convention and praised Trump for calling “America’s endless wars what they were, a disaster.” Moreover, Trump is reportedly about to name William Ruger, another veteran-turned-anti-interventionist, to be the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan. Ruger will have one mission: Negotiate a deal to get us out.
In other words, Trump seems to be in the process of fulfilling a campaign promise—and this is deeply threatening to the Deep Statists, those who have built their careers and ideologies around the idea that Uncle Sam should be the policeman for the Middle East and Central Asia. Such unilateral policing was probably never a good idea, and it’s certainly not a good idea now; as we all know, we’ve got much greater troubles here at home.
So okay, that’s what Trump wants to do: Bring the troops home and rebuild this country, for a change. But what does the Deep state want? What’s the view of all those folks who were happy when the two Bush presidents, plus Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, were plunging the U.S. into conflicts everywhere, from Pakistan to Kosovo to Libya? If military Deep Statists were happy with America plunging into conflict—it was a ticket-puncher for their careers, after all—then they can’t be happy about withdrawing from such conflicts.
Furthermore, if we’re curious about Deep State thinking, we might also look, in addition to McFaul, at another Deep State channeler, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic.
Earlier this month, Goldberg, a staunch champion of the Iraq War, published an instantly notorious article, headlined, “Trump: Americans Who Died in War Are ‘Losers’ and ‘Suckers.’” The piece cites four anonymous sources (read: Deep Statists) who accuse the president of gross insensitivity toward the troops. Trump, joined by on-the-record eyewitnesses, has furiously denied the allegations. Indeed, the article has been picked apart by many, including Joel Pollak of Breitbart News. At the same time, iconoclastic leftist Glenn Greenwald resected the press coverage of The Atlantic piece with scalpel-like precision—or maybe it was a chainsaw. In fact weeks later, we’re still waiting for any on-the-record confirmation of Goldberg’s claim—his sources seem to be only phantoms, conjured, perhaps, out of some Beltway version of a Lovecraft nightmare story.
At the same time, acute observers on the nationalist right emphasized the not-so-coincidental coincidence of the timing of this particular attack on Trump. Journalist Ryan James Girdusky jibed, “Same week the 30-month-old Atlantic article comes out, Trump nominates an ambassador who’s trying to get us out of Afghanistan and is ramping up peace negotiations in that country.”
Later, Dan McCarthy connected some dots as he asked:
Was it a coincidence that after the Democratic convention and a tie-in publicity campaign highlighting ex-Republican national security officials who were now backing Biden, the editor of the Atlantichappened to wake up one morning with the idea of getting anonymous sources to tell him about an incident that supposedly took place in France two years ago? The Atlantic’s owner, Laurene Powell Jobs, was listed only as one of ‘Biden’s biggest benefactors’ in the previous quarter by the New York Times, ‘among those who gave at least $500,000’ — not that her contribution to the Democratic effort can be measured by mere dollars.
Yes, there’s an election coming up, one which will determine future American policy around the world. So Rep. Matt Gaetz helpfully reminded voters, “@realDonaldTrump is the first POTUS since Reagan not to start a new war. Many in the Pentagon, Congress & military industrial complex hate him for it. They use endless wars to drive profit as we spill the blood of our best patriots.”
Indeed, on September 7, as caught by Breitbart News’s Josh Caplan, Trump himself said of the Deep State and the challenge he poses to it and its ways:
I’m not saying the military’s in love with me. The soldiers are. The top people in the Pentagon probably aren’t because they want to do nothing but fight wars, so all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.
In other words, maybe generals and admirals like the old ways, but maybe junior officers and grunts would like a new way—a way that doesn’t involve a half-dozen or more deployments to some war zone, all for the sake of satisfying some chickenhawk armchair warrior writing a column for the Washington Post.
Further perspective on Trump’s hostile relationship with the Deep State comes from Hillsdale College’s Michael Anton, one of the handful of Trumpians who actually has worked in the Trump National Security Council. He added this commentary on McFaul and Goldberg, “As if 2020 were not insane enough already, we now have Democrats and their ruling class masters openly talking about staging a coup.” Continuing, Anton compared the attack on Trump to a “color revolution,” of the sort that we’ve seen in Guatemala, Hong Kong, Ukraine, and other countries; as he put it, this is “the exact same playbook the American Deep State runs in other countries.” So yes, the American Deep State might be concealed in the shadows, but by its works ye shall know it.
Yes, anti-Trump Deep Statists are still veiled behind their anonymity, even if they are speaking more loudly and assertively through their pals in the media and in social media. So we can see: More and more, the Deep State is becoming the Obvious State.
For his part, McFaul plainly yearns to be a leading tribune for the Deep State. Indeed, to get a sense of his priorities, we can look to the “pinned tweet”—that is, the tweet that he wants us always to see when we visit his page—and see that it is a self-pat on the back for last month having crossed the threshold of 500,000 followers (he now has more than 521,000).
In fact, on September 5, McFaul tweeted the following account of a threat supposedly directed at him:
In a private message, a senior Trump official, who was with the president yesterday, accused me of “serious subversion of a democratically elected official” & warned/threatened me to “be careful with this language.” When the USG accuses you of “serious subversion,” it’s scary.
Once again, we can note the anonymity—except that this time, it’s the purported bad guy (the Trump official) who is not being named, while the purported good guy (McFaul) is on the record. But why not name the baddie? If a “senior Trump official” is, in fact, throwing around threats like this, why not unmask the identity? Why wouldn’t McFaul, sworn enemy of Trump, wish to blow that Trumpy henchman sky-high?
One possibility, of course, is that McFaul is grossly exaggerating a comment, or maybe he is simply making it all up, as a way of adding drama to himself—and further upping his Twitter following.
In the meantime, McFaul seems content to play a game of pseudo-verifying that dubious September 5 tweet. That’s what he did on September 19, when he retweeted MSNBC’s Ali Velshi’s tweet claiming, “The United States is backsliding into autocracy under Trump.” McFaul added of Velshi, “I love being on his shows”—and no doubt McFaul’s tweety symbiosis will nurture his TV relationship.
In any case, between Michael McFaul and Jeffrey Goldberg—as well as any number of other twitterers, reporters, tax-return leakers, and self-styled whistleblowers—we’re starting to see a pattern here: The Deep State is not yet fully emerged from its murky depths, and yet it is rising toward the surface of the political waters, such that we can already feel the ripples becoming waves. Oh, and did Virgil mention that Andrew Weissman, once an obscure—albeit powerful—figure in the ill-fated Robert Mueller “Russiagate” investigation, now has a new book out—he’s now up from the depths, obscure no more.
Indeed, at this rate of emergence, one day soon, the Lovecraftan Deep State, for so long dreamingly recessed and invisible in the murky bottomlessness, will rise, to be beheld in all its Cthulhu-esque enormity. Then, perhaps the epochal struggle between the Deep State, and its allies, and Donald Trump, and his allies, will convulse the country.