Last week, Donald Trump appeared on Fox News’ morning show and complained about “very, very bad people” in his own country’s government. “You know, a lot of people say ‘deep state,’” the president said. “I don’t like to use the word ‘deep state.’ I just say they’re really bad, sick people.”
Trump has actually used the phrase many times – including during the same interview in which he claimed to avoid the phrase. Yesterday, at a campaign rally in south Florida, the president referenced it again.
Mr. Trump also defended his decision this month to absolve three service members of war crimes, arguing that he had “stuck up for three great warriors against the deep state.”
It’s important to understand the nature and context of comments like these. According to Trump, he intervened in support of accused war criminals because there were nefarious government bureaucrats – including the Navy secretary whom Trump chose for the post – who were too committed to military discipline, the rule of law, and the integrity of the Uniform Code of Military Justice system.
Or put another way, the current Commander in Chief believes proponents of his own country’s military justice system are members of a “deep state” that he’s proud to fight against.
In the American tradition, there have been presidents who’ve butted heads with U.S. military leaders, but it’s tough to think of a parallel for Trump’s latest antics.
Richard Danzig, the Navy secretary in the Clinton administration, and Sean O’Keefe, the Navy secretary in the H.W. Bush administration, wrote a New York Times op-ed this week that said Donald Trump’s values “are not those of our military. It will do grievous damage to our armed services if they become so.”
This came on the heels of outgoing Navy Secretary Richard Spencer’s letter to the president, which read in part, “The rule of law is what sets us apart from our adversaries. Good order and discipline is what has enabled our victory against foreign tyranny time and again, from Captain Lawrence’s famous order ‘Don’t Give up the Ship,’ to the discipline and determination that propelled our flag to the highest point on Iwo Jima. The Constitution, and the Uniform Code of Military Justice, are the shields that set us apart, and the beacons that protect us all.”
It’s a shame Trump didn’t understand, and almost certainly didn’t read, the correspondence. It’s a bigger shame that even if the president had tried to grasp what Spencer wrote, the Republican’s takeaway would be a “deep state” conspiracy theory.