‘Deep State’ Fantasy Is Just as Dangerous as the ‘Fake News’ Myth

The Devin Nunes memo may have been a dud, but it did reveal one major issue: Politicians feel more than fine about destroying trust in our institutions.

Photo Illustration by Lyne Lucien/The Daily Beast

For weeks, we have been sold the idea that a “memo” written by Republican staffers of the House Select Committee on Intelligence was a damning piece of evidence of political bias in the intelligence-gathering process. Members of Congress, most of whom had not yet read the memo or the underlying FISA application, called for its release and stoked the flames of suspicion.

Did the memo offer the truths we were promised?

No, it didn’t.

We now have more questions than answers, except on one front where we did get additional clarity: The Trump era has been especially irresponsible and unfair to the law enforcement and intelligence communities and, frankly, unfair to the audience for which it is intended.

For generations, the Republican Party has properly existed with a healthy skepticism of government. But the current climate of politically stoked fear is leaning toward an outright rejection of it altogether. That’s not healthy, and it’s not well-informed.

It’s similar to how the earned skepticism of the mainstream media has become warped by the constant drumbeat of “fake news” cries. Conspiracy peddlers like InfoWars and the sites infecting Facebook have been enabled while more traditional outlets aren’t trusted, regardless of facts and reporting.

We are being pushed into a state of continuous paranoia, told to reject both the very notions of an independent press or an independent law enforcement community. The “Deep State” is the new “Fake News.” And it’s all being done to score political points.

We hear “Deep State” offered as an answer in itself. It lurks there eroding the confidence Republicans once had in our national security apparatus. First thrown around by the likes of Sean Hannity and Breitbart News, now members of Congress who should know better, like Congressmen Duncan Hunter and Francis Rooney. There’s also Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). But it’s not clear if he does, in fact, know better, based on his appearance with Alex Jones, a fringe conspiracy theorist.

Some of these same voices were responsible for peddling the idea that a “secret society” existed within the FBI, aimed at undermining the president, based on a tongue-in-cheek text.

The end result is alarming: a complete and illogical lack of faith in our systems and institutions. The federal bureaucracy is somehow both incompetent and ingenious. Incapable of running a health care website and yet capable of engineering national elections and masterminding criminal conspiracies without detection.

Many will argue that transparency is exactly what is needed. In theory, sure. But not when a little bit of transparency goes the wrong way. Not when it’s just enough to damage our institutional integrity but not enough to fix anything.

To that point, what is next? Sane and well-tempered leaders went along with this memo hype and now must bear the burden of its outcome. Will they release the Democratic memo? Will they release the full FISA application? How much classified information can be declassified without serious harm? One would hope they asked themselves these questions before this memo was released. I’m not so confident they did.

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Fortunately, the Senate intelligence committee is keeping an arm’s reach from all of this. They are conducting serious investigations in a way that can produce serious outcomes, not dueling narratives. They know that effective oversight requires that they work in good faith with the law enforcement and intelligence communities.

But they, unfortunately, represent the minority view now, at least within Republican circles. A new poll from Survey Monkey shows that just 38 percent of Republican voters now have a favorable opinion of the FBI.

Republicans correctly admonished Secretary Hillary Clinton for being cavalier and untrustworthy with our national security. Yet the careless, self-preserving, and politically motivated attitude they once decried seems to have been infectious.

If there are legitimate abuses of power, Republicans should always demand accountability, but there has to be a better way of going about that than this circus.