Trump continues to prosecute his war with the media, the so-called “fourth estate”calling them an “enemy of the people,” but it is the “seventh” Estate, the bureaucracy, that will be his real undoing.
The fourth estate is the media. The fifth estate are the bloggers. The sixth estate are the political-social critics of places like Twitter. So what’s the “seventh” estate?
The bureaucracy that executes the details of law and policy.
The Seventh Estate is designed to protect us, even when the kool aid vapors of propaganda have robbed us of our common sense, decency, good judgment, and sense of self preservation. They are the anonymous, non-political, non-appointed Government employees who:
- Keep us safe, both domestically and in the world. Think, warts and all, the NSA, CIA, FBI, TSA, Armed Forces, National Guard, Police;
- The agencies who build, maintain, and foster development of infrastructure necessary for commerce and prosperity. Think Highways, bridges, tunnels, ports, mass transit projects;
- The agencies and departments who keep our food, drugs, water and air clean, and address the majority’s concern about global warming;
- Those who research and explore in health, geology, space, history, culture that have no direct bottom-line but can add billions or trillions to the economy through information and innovation or invaluable knowledge or preservation of culture that define who we are as a common people.
American bureaucrats get a really bad rap, usually from businesses and individuals who believe that their specific agenda supersedes the common good.
Bureaucrats are most often tasked with saying yes or no to things, and while some regulations may seem intrusive or even silly, have a washing machine explode on consumers, or a phone melt down, or a parent leaving a loaded “kids” rifle in an umbrella stand were a boy kills his sister, and there are often common-sense reasons that these rules were implemented.
Some folks bristle at being told what to do, but if common sense worked, our neighbors wouldn’t build stuff on our property, rivers wouldn’t be so badly polluted that they catch on fire, and products would be universally safe and of high quality.
Granted, as I point out in Government is Good, there may be a lot of limited thinking, waste, and ineptitude in government agencies, but if you’ve had to deal with private bureaucracies inside cable television providers, banks, telephone companies, utility companies, etc. then you know that any large institution, private or public, is subject to the same frustrations.
The common good, or the “greater good” is why regulation exists, and bureaucrats are American heroes, no different than our soldiers, who commit their lives to the service of protecting and defending us.
Most of Trump’s cabinet picks may be the avowed enemies of the agencies that they now helm. He wants to take a flamethrower to everything from the Constitution to regulations, but with no actual experience in government, he has forgotten that there is a huge difference between easily manipulated private employees and federal employees.
Democrat or Republican, if you don’t win over the bureaucrats a political career is likely to face that “sixth sense” appearance that all is well, when it’s really stone cold dead.
The Congress may make laws, and the President issues executive orders, but those are just broad stroke outlines. The details are executed by the Seventh Estate.
Bureaucrats execute and administer public policy. They are hired for specific knowledge, and expertise. They work, day-in, day-out, with the businesses and people in specific, focused areas where things need to get done.
Their specific rules, within the laws, are publicly published in the Federal Register which, unless you are in the government or dealing with it for your job, few people ever read.
To avoid politicizing these jobs, which has been the death of governments in authoritarian regimes, it is very difficult to fire an American bureaucrat.
The external special interests who work with them on a daily basis more often than not will come to their aid if political hacks are trying to affect policy in a way that does not serve the common good of those interests.
Civil servants keep the ship of state sailing smoothly, even when the person(s) wearing the “captains hat” want to steer the ship onto the rocks.
To get your head around how that works, and even oddly works in its dysfunctions, check out the BBC Britcom “Yes, Prime Minister,” a satirical look at the perpetual battle to helm a similar British ship of state between the civil service chief Sir Humphrey Appleby, and his politician, PM Jim Hacker:
Cabinet members running agencies with strong anti-agency views, such as Trump’s picks, can issue all kinds of orders, but, if they clash too much with their civil servants, policy can be slowed down, so long that the implementation process may happen after the people issuing orders leave their office, or in a way that ultimately defeats the purpose of the order.
Trump has made his way through his business life as a bully. Presidents either know, or learn the hard way, that you don’t intimidate the bureaucracy. Threats to “low-life leakers” get you nowhere fast.
Leaks are the Seventh Estate’s way of letting the American public know that inappropriate, dangerous, or illegal activity is being done behind closed doors.
Trump has vowed to prosecute leaking. National security breaches can generate jail time, but the majority of government leaks aren’t illegal, just embarrassing.
Most of these leaks, especially of certain Trump conversations and phone calls, it should be noted, are most likely coming from within the White House itself. It suggests that even the President’s own people are concerned by his conduct. Yet he claimed that “[t]his administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”
What Trump fails to realize is that the bureaucracy is porous: Information leaks out of it all of the time. It’s been a normal function of our working democracy as long as there has been an American government. It is a stabilizing factor.
The Seventh Estate, leaking to the media, expose waste, corruption, and abuse of power are a part of the safety valves that keep American government on track.
Why do government employees leak out information?
Something is being done that is so egregious to the moral compass of the average Americans who work in lower level jobs at these agencies.
Edward Snowden saw the vast information grabs of data and violations of individual rights of citizens privacy as an overreach and outed it, understanding the great personal cost.
Many are self-serving. Whistle blowers often can avoid jail time, like the forty indicted or jailed for following orders of the Nixon Administration during Watergate.
“A law-abiding person will want to stay as far as possible from the personal service of President Trump,” says David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter.
Whether it is no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, questionable drone strikes in Afghanistan, or botched raids in Yemen, information finds its way out to the public to make sure that it stops.
Trump leaks are about serious breaches in priorities, policies, and global safety:
- A Defense Department leak of Trump’s priorities that showed Russia didn’t make the cut, prior to the inauguration. The leakers didn’t believe that Trump’s priorities were good policy.
- General Flynn’s talks about lifting Obama Administration sanctions imposed in the wake of their proven meddling with the U.S. elections before he assumed the role of National Security Advisor wouldn’t have set off alarm bells had it not been for the revelations of leakers outing what may have been illegal activity on Flynn’s part.
- Trump conversations with world leaders are not only inept and embarrassing. They are eroding diplomatic relationships, alliances, and other “deals” that have been proven to keep us safe and make us economically and socially stronger in the world.
“All Administrations leak and maybe particularly early on. But what surprises me here is the extent with which you have people leaking against each other,” Eliot Cohen, a counselor at the State Department under George W. Bush told TIME. “This is unprecedented.”
Lies are the undoing of all politicians, even the disrupters. As John McCain noted, it’s putting the Trump team and his agenda in disarray. Trump’s loyal followers may believe him blindly, but the bureaucracy is kicking the tires, and outing what is at odds with American democracy, as it has been doing since George Washington put his hand on a Bible and took the oath of office for the very first time.
The leaking stops when responsible, and responsive governing starts. If Trump doesn’t start learning that soon, the Captain will go down with the ship, and his crew will be the ones scuttling it.