The "deep state."
We've been hearing that potent term, relatively new to the political lexicon, a lot lately. It has different shades of meaning but generally denotes an entrenched natural governing elite. Conservative governments in Canada, notably John Diefenbaker's and Stephen Harper's, feared they would be undermined, though the term wasn't in use then, by a hostile deep state in the form of a liberalized bureaucracy, media and foreign service.
In Ottawa, you might find the deep state's charter members in leafy Rockcliffe Park neighbourhood; in Washington, in the cozy conclave of Georgetown, where the establishment forever has been moored.
A couple of blocks up the street from me is the Georgetown residence of Bob Woodward, whose name, as the scent of White House scandal thickens, is often invoked. In the same neighbourhood is the former residence of Henry Kissinger, who is now in his sixth decade of counselling Oval Office occupants. Felix Frankfurter, the esteemed jurist, lived in Georgetown, as did Thomas Jefferson, as did John F. Kennedy, Ben Bradlee, Cyrus Vance and countless weighty bureaucrats and movers and shakers.
One explanation for Donald Trump's election half-win (electoral college but not popular vote) was a war on the establishment. The elites hadn't delivered. The people were fed up. The perpetuators of the status quo had to go.
Georgetowners were predictably appalled by the onslaught of the rubes and the rabble. But much of the fear on these narrow stately streets has already lifted. Against the infidels, the long-rooted Washington establishment is holding strong. The deep state is winning.
The renegade Trump administration becomes more conventional by the week. Much of foreign policy has been given over to Foggy Bottom traditionalists. Threats against immigrants have been pared down. The Steve Bannons in the administration are losing their clout. Trade threats have diminished, meaning Canada need not panic. For the NAFTA renegotiation, Ottawa holds some good cards and has a foreign minister in Chrystia Freeland who knows what she is doing.
The Washington bureaucracy, liberalized under Barack Obama, has played a big role, especially through leaks, in the deep state resistance. But the most powerful element has been the bold resurgence, chiefly in the form of The New York Times and The Washington Post, of a traditional mainstream press thought to be in decline.
The Post and Times have hit this White House with one news jolt after another. It's like they're back in their heyday of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate. Chiefly as a result of their work, a special counsellor is now probing the Trump administration's Russia ties. Comparisons to Watergate are premature and overheated. But it is worth remembering how the deep-state institutions of the day brought down Richard Nixon who, like Mr. Trump's political base, railed against eastern elites.
"Of course, the deep state exists," former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says. "There's a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president."
Says Mr. Trump of the media: "No politician in history – and I say this with great surety – has been treated worse or more unfairly." His cause would perhaps be helped if in his first 119 days he hadn't, as the Post reports, made 586 false and misleading claims.
Coinciding with the newspaper muscle-flexing has been the fall of Fox, the President's media enabler. Fox has been hit by scandal, the departure of top talking heads and the death of its architect, Roger Ailes, who pandered to prejudice like none other and polarized the country in so doing.
The Trump Republicans are not caving to establishment forces on all fronts. The head of the Environmental Protection Agency stands for environmental destruction. The Attorney-General is a lock-em-up lawmaker with a bigoted background. Obamacare is threatened by an appalling piece of House legislation.
But chiefly owing to a robust free press, this administration is being held to clear-eyed account, an account that is allowing the forces of normalization to make headway. If that's what a deep state is about, the United States should be happy it has one.