No one could accuse me of being a Donald Trump fan. Nonetheless, I do feel sympathy for him as he attempts to change the rules of political gamesmanship in Washington D. C. Already he is paying a heavy price for attempting to “clean up the swamp.” Never mind that his new vision threatens the public with another of his making.
While I’ve only been a tourist in Washington D. C., I know how a political a bureaucracy works when it feels threatened. My baptism may have been in a small pond but I’m guessing swamp dynamics work the same at any level. They subvert with “the leak.” Sometimes these leaks are the work of a patriot like Daniel Ellsberg (Click), William Mark Felt, Sr, “Deep Throat,” (Click) , or Edward Snowden (Click). At other times, a leaker intends to do little more than embarrass and create mischief.
Michael J. Glennon, who teaches law at Tufts University, argues the United States has more than 3 branches of government: the White House, the Congress and the Supreme Court. The 4th is the invisible Bureaucracy. (“Security Breach,” by Michael J. Glennon, Harper’s, June 2017, pg. 41- 45.) To trace that history, I recommend reading Glennon’s article.
Undoubtedly, Donald Trump was aware of this 4th branch before he arrived in Washington. Perhaps that’s why his first effort at swamp clearing was to divorce himself from the military. A brave but foolish move, as this branch is entrenched, well-funded and adept at defensive strategy. Furthermore, the bureaucrats who head these agencies have no qualms about lying to elected leaders, something Trump may have noted in their testimony to Diane Feinstein (Click) and Ron Wyden (Click). A lie, wrapped in patriotism generally goes down well with the public, though it plays havoc with the ability of our elected officials to provide oversight on behalf of the people.
“…the bureaucracy was never intended to be an equal of Congress, the courts, and the president,” Glennon writes. (Ibid pg. 41.) But by controlling the flow of information or disinformation, it makes itself an equal. In fact, bureaucrats have little incentive to behave otherwise. A career civil servant is likely to “outlive” an elected official.
No, Donald Trump isn’t always wrong. The swamp does need clearing out. Unfortunately, it has defeated smarter, more skillful and experienced leaders in the past. I give this president a Dodo bird’s chance of survival.