I live a pretty sheltered life. I’m not a saint, by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m too cowardly to contemplate the really dangerous sins, much less the sort of stuff that brings detectives to your door step. I can’t even imagine how you would bribe a public official, or a purchasing agent. Like all men, I struggle with desire, but the thought of seducing someone’s wife makes me cringe. There are times when I feel something like murderous rage when I hear politicians attempting to shame the American people into paying more taxes, but I can’t imagine putting a bullet between someone’s eyes.
I’m guessing that most people in America, and around the world, fall into my category. Most of us keep our head down, and avoid trouble, not because we’re particularly virtuous, but because we can’t imagine paying the price for stepping out of line. This “impure obedience” more or less makes civilization possible. You can call this “fear of God,” or “common sense,” or for some rare souls, “holiness,” but if it didn’t exist, we would all seek our provisions in abject fear, something like the golden-mantled ground squirrels I just saw on my morning walk. They move fast, eat fast, dig fast, and likely spend their lives in abject fear of being picked clean by a bald eagle.
However, there are people who move on the fringes, in the dark, un-tethered from the fear most of us feel. It’s not just the stuff of John Grisham novels. Years ago an old salesman told me there was a big chain grocery buyer he knew who parked his car in a certain spot, with the passenger window down. He made it known that you tucked your envelope above the sun visor, if you wanted to do business. I have no reason to believe this was hyperbole. On a higher level, I know someone else who worked in an elite branch of the federal government. He told me a colleague of his was about to “disappear,” meaning every trace of his identity was about to be wiped from every server that might interfere with his new mission, which my contact implied was in the black ops territory.
That’s about as close as I get to 007 territory, but I trust these two enough to imagine that this sort of stuff takes place. There are parts of the world, of course, where a bribe would be considered simply part of doing business, but murder-for-hire, assassination, and extortion seem too hideous to be part of anyone’s “normal.”
I think we even tend to believe, naively, at more routine levels, that everyone feels honor bound to “mind the store,” to do their job honorably. There’s a little airport up here and I was wondering, aloud, if anyone provided helicopter tours. It occurred to me that I’m a pretty trusting consumer. I wouldn’t ask to see anyone’s pilot license, or anyone’s maintenance reports. I would just assume that if someone advertised helicopter tours they would be licensed, insured, and competent. A few years ago, just as a hobby, I started reading the expiration date posted on the safety inspection sheet in elevators. Try it some time. You might be surprised.
If we can’t imagine a hotel with out of date elevator inspections or someone operating a helicopter charter or a medical practice without a license, how much harder is it for us to believe that there really is a sinister deep state given over, almost completely, to evil? We are actually conditioned to believe this is only John Grisham territory and that anyone speculating about political enemies being killed, or framed, is someone addicted to conspiracy theory.
When Senator Schumer criticized President Trump for “attacking” America’s intelligence agencies, he told Rachel Maddow, “Let me tell you, you take on the intelligence community, they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”
Wait a minute. Pause the tape. A United States Senator believes the president of the United States doesn’t actually RUN our intelligence agencies? On the contrary, he should actually FEAR them? How is that? A long time Washington insider believes this to be so obvious, and such expected behavior, that it’s not even whispered?
Maybe that scene where President Francis Underwood pushes a political enemy in front of a train isn’t so implausible after all.
I recently parted company with a conservative writer who thought the very idea of a “deep state” was an obscene comedy. Everything works. Our institutions have long traditions of integrity. They are licensed, professional, transparent. Someone really is minding the store, and damn it, I’m going to ridicule anyone who thinks otherwise. The unthinkable is just too, um, John Grisham.
Maybe I really am sheltered, and maybe the rest of my fellow conservatives better toughen up, and if we don’t end up playing dirty, we better be ready to respond to those who do.