Except during the Civil War, when the nation split like a cell under microscope—becoming two governments under two flags in two capitals—American government has never been more divided than it is today. Approval of the current president is split 89% among Republicans versus 7% among Democrats, Independents
approving at 34%. In the elected government, practically all Republicans in Congress support the administration and almost all Democrats oppose it to the point of imminent impeachment.
Dramatic as this split is, the division actually runs far deeper. We expect the two major
parties to dispute issues of policy and values. What’s different today is that Republicans and
Democrats, presented with an identical set of facts, routinely see in it two radically different sets of truth. When pressed, at least one administration official, confronted by facts, famously opposed them with “alternative facts” and another assured the moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press that “Truth isn’t truth.” The president himself explained to attendees at the 2018 VFW convention, “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” How can we expect our deeply divided government to function in any productive way if
those in its three branches cannot agree on such elementary tautologies as fact is fact, truth is
truth, and what we see before our own eyes is what there is to be seen?
Fortunately, for most of us most of the time and in most situations, neither the Legislative, Executive, nor Judicial branches function as the government. When you need someone with the power and authority of government to do something for you, you do not call
Congress, the President, or a Supreme Court justice. If you need your plot of farmland protected from somebody’s toxic runoff, or your house and family saved from a raging fire, or your property defended from an intruder, you call an agency of the unelected government at the local, state, or federal level. You call the local office of the EPA or Department of Agriculture, which sends out a professionally qualified inspector. You call 911, and the city fire department sends trained firefighters. You call 911, and the police department dispatches sworn law enforcement officers.
But since one-half of the elected government challenges the truth and reality of the other half, the more useful response would be, “What is
our American government?” We all know the Constitution established just three co-equal branches of Federal government. The Legislative Branch has 535 elected members, and the Executive only two, who are elected as a couple, so it effectively has just one. The members of the Judicial Branch are all appointed by the Executive Branch with the advice and consent of the Legislative.
The Constitution mentions no Fourth Branch, but it exists and dwarfs the other three.
Its members are the public servants, the civil servants, and the employees of the General
Services Administration (GSA), and a whole cadre of first responders. In fact, the Fourth Branch extends beyond the federal government to encompass state, city, and other local governments.
All members of the Fourth Branch are unelected. They volunteer to serve and are duly appointed or hired. They include all manner of workers and professionals. Those doing jobs that require specialized skills come into their positions having been educated or trained in some specialized field, ranging, say, from meteorology (for some of those on the professional staff of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to aspects of law enforcement (like those who graduate from the FBI academy at Quantico, Virginia, and join the bureau). They are all public servants. Counting federal, state, county, city, and village governments, they numbered (as of 2019) over 22,00,000. Unelected, these public servants manage government. They don’t create policy, they implement it. They don’t appropriate funds, they provide the fact-based data and analysis the elected decision makers use to formulate their appropriations. Unelected, they are nonpartisan professionals. Their service is to the community, not to any party or lobbyist or special interest, and they are the most direct links that exist between the government and the governed.
Those who manage and implement government don’t dispute reality or divide truth. They
meet both head-on, as it is, where it is. In this way, they provide for the common defense and
promote the general welfare, which are the only real excuses for having a government.
Recently, eleven of the roughly 22 million members of the Fourth Branch delivered
sworn depositions before the House impeachment inquiry. (A twelfth witness, Gordon Sondland, Trump administration ambassador to the EU, “revised” his own sworn deposition in response to some of the eleven other depositions.)
The testimony followed the allegations of an unelected government whistle blower that
the president and other top government officials had pressured foreign nations, primarily
Ukraine, to investigate former vice-president and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter. The Trump administration ordered these (and other) individuals not to testify. It would have been easy to obey that order. Instead, these eleven defied the man who holds the most powerful office on the planet.
We do not yet know what effect the depositions and whatever additional testimony may follow will have on the president or anyone else, including those who stepped up. We do
know that the whistle blower and the eleven public servants who have appeared so far did what members of the Fourth Branch do daily. They served the people.
In this instance, the public service was to bear witness to certain acts, words, and events
enacted at the highest levels of elected government, outside of public sight and hearing. It is for Congress to determine if these acts, words, and events were also outside the public law and the public good. But it will be for us, the people who elected that Congress, to judge, in light of the non-partisan witness borne, whatever determination each member of Congress makes.