Sun editorial:

Health of our nation depends on willingness of honest people to lead

President Donald Trump and his extremist support base are right. There is a Deep State.

But they’re absolutely wrong about what that Deep State is.

It’s not some conspiratorial, shadowy society, but rather it’s the enormous group of Americans who cherish the Constitution and will not let a wannabe authoritarian like Trump or anyone else tear it apart.

These are people who believe in the separation of powers, an independent judiciary, free and vigorous media, freedom of expression and law enforcement that focuses on protecting the best interests of all Americans, as opposed to serving as any given president’s muscle. They believe in our system of checks and balances, including that the legislative branch should operate independently of the executive branch.

These people aren’t known literally as the Deep State, of course. But they form the core of each state in the union, and they believe not only in the U.S. Constitution but the founding documents of their states, which are modeled after it.

This is the group that Trump, Fox News and the extremist right fears and hates.

And they should. These Americans are protective of values like truth, caring for others, believing in the core virtues of our neighbors and trusting our form of government.

But for the Deep State defenders, the challenge today is to thwart elected officials who have chosen not to stand up for the Constitution or have worked to undermine it.

Democracies are not guaranteed an ongoing, perpetual existence. It’s up to the people — whose government this really is — to ensure that our democracy will not fail.

So protecting the Constitution and defending the nation’s values will require action.

It’s about getting involved in political advocacy. It’s about supporting high-quality, even-handed candidates. For those with the passion, the capability and the ambition to be candidates, it requires running for leadership positions.

And that’s at every level, not just congressional offices.

Cities, counties and school boards, the levels that are closest to the people and generally have the most direct effect on their lives, all need bright and competent candidates. The bigger the pool, the better the chance that an excellent candidate will be selected.

There’s been a lot of talk about Trump’s unpopularity fueling a Democratic wave in this year’s midterm elections, but let’s remember that it’s just speculation at this point. And the danger in all of that noise is that it might prompt qualified candidates to stay in the shadows, falsely assuming that the field will be overly crowded with terrific candidates this year.

This is no time to be timid or hesitant. Just look at some of the items in the news in the past couple of weeks for proof.

One, we have a president who had to be backed down from firing special counsel Robert Mueller, and reportedly is still considering doing so. That would be the biggest abuse of power since Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, in which Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy, William D. Ruckelshaus, resigned rather than carry out the president’s order to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Another alarming story in recent days was the sudden resignation of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a key target of Trump’s anger toward the FBI over the Russia collusion investigation.

Third was the Trump White House’s refusal to impose sanctions on Russia that were overwhelmingly approved by Congress over the summer. The administration claimed that the mere threat of the sanctions had been sufficient to curtail wrongdoing, but you’d have to be a hard-core Trump reporter not to have seen the development as one of several signs that Trump won’t stand up to Russia.

Teetering on the brink of a constitutional crisis and stuck with a coward who won’t defend the U.S. against a serious threat to our democracy, America needs its best citizens to step forward. The nation needs the Deep State to fight for it.