Foreign Policy editor, David Rothkopf, explores America's "shallow government" and the role ordinary Americans, Trump supporters, play in empowering it.
The shallow state is in many respects the antithesis of the deep state. The power of the deep state comes from experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, traditions, and shared values. Together, these purported attributes make nameless bureaucrats into a supergovernment that is accountable to no one. That is a scary prospect. But the nature of bureaucracies, human nature, inertia, checks and balances, and respect for the chain of command makes it seem a bit far-fetched to me. (The bureaucracy will drive Trump, like many presidents, mad, and some within it will challenge him, but that’s not the same thing.)
The shallow state, on the other hand, is unsettling because not only are the signs of it ever more visible but because its influence is clearly growing. It is made scarier still because it not only actively eschews experience, knowledge, relationships, insight, craft, special skills, tradition, and shared values but because it celebrates its ignorance of and disdain for those things. Donald Trump, champion and avatar of the shallow state, has won power because his supporters are threatened by what they don’t understand, and what they don’t understand is almost everything. Indeed, from evolution to data about our economy to the science of vaccines to the threats we face in the world, they reject vast subjects rooted in fact in order to have reality conform to their worldviews. They don’t dig for truth; they skim the media for anything that makes them feel better about themselves. To many of them, knowledge is not a useful tool but a cunning barrier elites have created to keep power from the average man and woman. The same is true for experience, skills, and know-how. These things require time and work and study and often challenge our systems of belief. Truth is hard; shallowness is easy.The commander in chief of the shallow state, for example, does not have much use for reading. Or briefings. Or experts. He is famously driven instead by impulse, instinct, and ideology. He and the team around him care very little for facts. (The Washington Post has been tracking his performance, and so far the president has not let a day go by without a major lie.) Indeed, as we have seen, Trump & Co. are allergic to demonstrable, proven facts whether they be of the scientific, political, social, cultural, or economic variety. With leaders like these, the shallow state exists only on the surface, propelled only by emotion and reflex. Therefore, anything of factual weight or substance disturbs, disrupts, or obliterates it much as a rock does when dropped onto an image reflected in a pond.
We have seen shallow leaders before. Abraham Lincoln decried the Know-Nothing party and its adherents, who were a notable movement on the U.S. political landscape in the middle of the 19th century. Recent leaders like George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan were not seen as leading intellectual lights. But the Trump phenomenon is more extreme. The president of the United States with all the resources available to him wouldn’t offer up major distortions of the truth every day for more than a month absent a deep disinterest in learning or a recognition that lies may be more supportive of his positions than the truth (and that his followers are perfectly happy accepting lies). Or both. In my view, it is both. Further, Trump’s team has seemed much more focused on offering up something that is more like a television show about a president than actual governance. It plays not to newspapers — which it seeks to discredit — but to social media, animated by the belief that the actions of a government can not just be explained in 140 characters but can consist largely of tweets and photo ops and packaged images. When things require real work behind the scenes but are hard to translate to tweets or chat TV, they just don’t seem to be prioritized (like nominating people for the almost 600 open Senate-confirmable positions) or get done (like anything hard with regard to legislation).
Life is once again imitating art. Actually, it’s worse than that.
No Now this president has decided that if he is shallow and his followers are shallow, he shall do what he can to make our society shallower. Perhaps that’s his most ambitious goal given the level to which we have sunk. But he is doing so nonetheless, now offering up a budget that would eliminate those small pockets within the U.S. government that promote depth or real knowledge. Scientific and economic data that undercuts his theories is being suppressed. Dissent, even from within his own ranks, is being met with firings.
And we cannot switch the channel. We cannot tweet this out of existence. We cannot unfollow him. We must fight, or we will lose that which is best about ourselves and our country.