The so-called ‘Deep State’ has been in the news a lot lately. And it’s a myth. (More)

“A hybrid network of structures within which actual power resides”

It seems everyone is chattering about the ‘deep state.’ Conspiracy-monger Alex Jones has a video about the ‘deep state’s’ war on the God-King and Common DreamsGary Olson warns progressives not to hope the ‘deep state’ rescues us:

What is the Deep State? It’s a hybrid network of structures within which actual power resides. It includes the military-industrial complex, Wall Street, hordes of private contractors whose sole client is the government, national security agencies, select (not all) members of the State, Defense, CIA, Homeland Security, a few key members of the Congressional Defense and Intelligence Committees, and so on.

Except for a handful of Congresspersons, Deep State members have not been elected and are accountable to no one. They profoundly influence virtually every domestic and foreign matter of consequence. D.J. Hopkins, another close student of this phenomenon, notes that “the system served by the Deep State is not the United States of America, i.e., the country most Americans believe they live in; the system it serves is globalized Capitalism.” And they do so regardless of which party is nominally in control. [Mike] Lofgren takes pains to point out that the Deep State is not a coven of diabolical conspirators. It has evolved over several decades to become the antithesis of democracy.
Finally, years ago, the bracing social critic and stand-up comedian George Carlin presciently described what’s come to pass as we face the equally dangerous Deep State and Donald Trump. Carlin said, “It’s a big club and you and I ain’t in it. What do they want? More for themselves and less for everybody else. And they don’t give a f– about about you.” Carlin believed that an aroused and politically savvy citizenry could ultimately prevail.

In other words, the ‘deep state’ is the 21st century version of the Trilateral Bilderburg Illuminati. Or whatever.

I loved George Carlin’s humor but he was – first, last, and always – a comic. “Bracing social critic” strikes me as just another way to say “I agree with him.”

“A term that has grown in popularity in news coverage over the last month”

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Ryan Lenz notes that conservatives have coopted the ‘deep state’ myth lately:

On Sunday, as Richard Spencer was speaking with reporters about the so-called “deep state” being “opposed to the president” and creating “something like a civil war,” security guards interrupted, stripped Spencer of his credentials and escorted him from the building.

Spencer was quick to attack the conservative establishment as out of touch with the rising Alt-Right. But tucked in his comments was that mysterious phrase – the deep state.

Spencer was tapping into a term that has grown in popularity in news coverage over the last month, as well as on the radical right, as the Trump administration appears to make good on chief strategist Steve Bannon’s promise to “destroy all of today’s establishment.” Foreign Policy, Salon, and Glenn Greenwald’s investigative website The Intercept have all discussed the idea. Even neoconservative Bill Kristol, founder of The Weekly Standard, recently referenced the deep state.

Lenz continues:

The concept of the deep state is not new. Historically associated with countries such as Turkey, and sometimes called a “state within a state,” the term refers to government bodies like the armed forces, political foundations, police and administrative agencies that work to undermine a country’s civilian leadership, regardless of party affiliation.

So, umm, the ‘deep state’ is … well … pretty much every city, state, or federal government employee. Plus the media. Plus the banks. Plus….

“People there need to be rooted out”

And especially the intelligence community, in the estimation of critics cited by Newsweek’s David Burnett:

Whether or not the leakers intend it, the perception that the intelligence community is waging war on Trump is likely to resurrect that toxic chilling effect. The lesson many commentators are now drawing – some apprehensively, a few with gloating enthusiasm – is “getting on the wrong side of the Deep State can be hazardous to your political health,” which is an unhealthy notion for officials in a liberal democracy to have lodged in their heads.

Moreover, the tension between these two scenarios is inherently unstable. “If you come at the king,” as one great political thinker has observed, “you’d best not miss,” and doubly so when the king is your employer.

The New York Times recently reported that the Trump would be tapping an old business associate – who notably lacks any intelligence background – to conduct an overarching review of the intelligence community, perhaps as a prelude to a future leadership role. That has reportedly created a fair amount of anxiety in intelligence circles.

Trump allies like Representative Steve King (R-IA) have already ominously suggested that “people there need to be rooted out,” and the narrative of a disloyal or hostile intelligence community could help give Trump cover to launch a purge within the agencies and install his own loyalists.

And now we’re sneaking up on the truth behind the myth.

‘Deep State’ is infinitely scarier than ‘Continuity of Norms’ or ‘Institutional Memory’

Yes, it’s pretty obvious that many CIA employees were upset when the God-King compared them to Nazis, and they were rightfully outraged that he gave a self-cheerleading speech in front of the solemn Memorial Wall. And yes, the recent torrent of leaks from the CIA and other agencies has been unprecedented. A whole lot of federal government employees are indeed pissed off, enough to spark a whole host ‘rogue’ Twitter feeds to circumvent the God-King’s diktats.

So why do I insist the ‘deep state’ is a myth?

Because it’s a paranoia-inducing frame for a very ordinary phenomenon. Yes, our government has a continuity of norms – a Constitution, treaties, statutes, regulations, and informal practices – that transcend the terms of office of our presidents and members of Congress.

That continuity of norms exists because our nation has a continuity of international and domestic interests. Simply, the universe doesn’t reset to zero on U.S. election or inauguration days. A few names change in D.C., but 318 million other Americans’ lives continue pretty much as they were the day before. So do billions of lives around the world … and uncountable natural processes.

Action on those continuing interests resides in tens of millions of federal, state, and local government employees. Most of them are career civil servants whose daily tasks don’t change much after an election. Their collective awareness and analyses are what we call institutional memory and – far more often than not – it’s a good thing. It allows our government to learn from high-flown ideas that didn’t work, and massage new-but-raw ideas into practical form.

And yes, most of that continuity of norms and institutional memory exists outside elected officials. Indeed most of it exists outside government itself: in businesses, NGOs, civic organizations, and others who have a hand or at least a fingernail in shaping and implementing government policy. The church volunteer who knows how to fill out the forms to get funding, stock, and distribute from the food pantry? He or she is part of that continuity of norms, part of that institutional memory.

Or, in the paranoid conspiracy frame, that church volunteer is part of the “deep state.”

Because that’s all the “deep state” is … a boogeyman name for the very ordinary continuity of norms and institutional memory that exist in every halfway-competent organization.

The God-King isn’t running afoul of some secretive, anti-democratic cabal, any more than a drunk driver runs afoul of an automotive demon. The problem isn’t some shadowy ‘deep state.’ The problem is the idiot at the wheel.


Photo Credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Gage Skidmore (Flickr) and U.S. Government


Good day and good nuts