What is treason of the deep state?

English: After Robert E. Lee surrendered his t...

English: After Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops in April 1865, he promoted reconciliation. This statement reaffirmed his loyalty to the U.S. Constitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bannon and indirectly Trump believe that they are being betrayed by the “deep state” which appears to be defined as the bureaucrats and the bureaucracy that they inherited. In particular, those individuals who served the Obama administration and appear loyal to him in their disclosure of information to journalists. They argue that these people are protecting the “establishment” which exists beyond what Trump and his aides can control.

The argument is that these holdovers are disloyal to Trump and by extension disloyal to the public and ultimately the country for what they do. In a more extreme view, they could be called traitors. But what is treason? Is it betrayal of the country? If so, what is the country, are they betraying the soil, or the people? If they are betraying the people who are they betraying them to? Another faction within the country or another state? As Leo Strauss suggested, treason is about selling out the established order because political crimes are committed against an order.[1] What represents the order within a country? It is the constitution. The loyalty demanded of all citizens and public servants is to the constitution which embodies the laws of the land.

At the heart of the claim against those who are the “deep state” is an argument over the constitution and loyalty to the constitution. Must bureaucrats demonstrate loyalty to the president as a defender of the constitution and the constitutional order above their loyalty to the constitution? In all of this, we must remember that the president is not the constitution. He only exists by virtue of the constitution. He is a creature of the constitution as is any other bureaucrat or public official. None of whom would exist without the constitution.

When Trump and Bannon question the loyalty of bureaucrats or the “deep state”, they are implicitly, or in some cases explicitly, arguing that they have been disloyal to the president and they owe their loyalty first to the president and then secondly, if at all, to the constitution. While such an approach may have worked at the Trump Organisation, where employees were expected to serve Trump first and the law second, the approach does not work within the government. In the government, all bureaucrats have a higher loyalty to the constitution. To be sure, they are not necessarily constitutional scholars or constitutional lawyers, however, as any citizen can be, they can understand the law. The loyalty to the law and more broadly to the constitution comes before loyalty to the president.

When you heard commentators and politicians, especially within the Trump administration, claim that the deep state is trying to destabilize Trump, consider that they may be trying to defend the constitution. What we are seeing with the leaks is the constitutional system working, to some extent, so long as the goal is to defend the constitution. If that isn’t the goal, then we have to ask what Trump and the leakers think they are doing.




[1] Leo Strauss On Plato’s Symposium ed. Seth Benardete (University of Chicago Press, 2001) p. 59


About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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