Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Deep State, Shallow Swamp

Since the election of The Donald, you've probably noticed a sudden uptick in that erstwhile arcane term "Deep State". It's become so ubiquitous that it may well end up in one of those lists of the most overused phrases and words of the year.

My own habitual usage of the term in these pages derives from Mike Lofgren's original thesis:
There is the visible government situated around the Mall in Washington, and then there is another, more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists at the White House or the Capitol. The former is traditional Washington partisan politics: the tip of the iceberg that a public watching C-SPAN sees daily and which is theoretically controllable via elections. The subsurface part of the iceberg I shall call the Deep State, which operates according to its own compass heading regardless of who is formally in power....
 Yes, there is another government concealed behind the one that is visible at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue, a hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country according to consistent patterns in season and out, connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible state whose leaders we choose. My analysis of this phenomenon is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal; the state within a state is hiding mostly in plain sight, and its operators mainly act in the light of day. Nor can this other government be accurately termed an “establishment.” All complex societies have an establishment, a social network committed to its own enrichment and perpetuation. In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.
The New York Times, which itself might be considered part of the Deep State, describes the term quite differently: an authoritarianism that hasn't happened here yet, but very well might. According to the "explainer piece" by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub, the recent torrent of leaks from spy agencies in the chaotic regime of Donald Trump has only led to "fears" of an American Deep State:
Though leaks can be a normal and healthy check on a president’s power, what’s happening now extends much further. The United States, those experts warn, risks developing an entrenched culture of conflict between the president and his own bureaucracy.
Issandr El Amrani, an analyst who has written on Egypt’s deep state, said he was concerned by the parallels, though the United States has not reached authoritarian extremes....
Though the deep state is sometimes discussed as a shadowy conspiracy, it helps to think of it instead as a political conflict between a nation’s leader and its governing institutions.
That can be deeply destabilizing, leading both sides to wield state powers like the security services or courts against one another, corrupting those institutions in the process.
One person's Deep State is a loose existing consensus, another person's Deep State is a potential corrupt conflict.

And that is leading to the suggestion that we just stop talking about the Deep State already. Rafael Khachaturian writes in Jacobin:
 According to critics — and until recently, references to the “deep state” were rarely positive — these subterranean networks exercise disproportionate influence over public policy. While parts of the Left have long been concerned about the deep state, lately the Right has taken up the term, using it to decry a purported fifth column of Obama loyalists. From Glenn Greenwald to Bill Kristol, Breitbart to Foreign Policy, it seems everyone now accepts the reality of the deep state, even if they disagree about its role in the present controversy.

The term’s surge in popularity is understandable. The “deep state” appears to be an appropriate way to describe the complex networks tying together the various state apparatuses. In particular, it can easily be invoked to explain the seemingly invisible, drawn out, and arcane processes by which public policy is actually negotiated and made.
Yet for the same reason, references to the deep state obscure more than they clarify. They shed hardly any light on the nature of the power struggle currently roiling the federal government. If we want to fight Trump, we’ll need conceptual and theoretical frameworks with more explanatory power than the “deep state” can provide.
The danger of using the term Deep State, according to Khachaturian, is that it implies a monolithic entity acting in total accord with itself. This makes sense, given that the two legacy political parties actually do seem to be collapsing before our very eyes, riven as they are by internal power struggles.

However, the Duopoly does still exist.The food fighters of what we call the "state" are still nourished by the same teat of big corporate money. And with only their self-interest and their greed in common, they are vulnerable. We can chip away at them one by one, because they are neither united nor are they especially deep. They are simply used to being held unaccountable as they rise to the level of their own incompetence.

Other terms for them are the Washington Consensus (or the "Consensuals"), the Neoliberal Thought Collective, the Ruling Class, and what I have dubbed the Media-Political Complex: a loose consortium of think tanks, multinational corporations, politicians, lobbyists, and media conglomerates who set the parameters of The Possible and agree to disagree only around the margins for purposes of lively sham debate. For example, there is never any discussion of disassembling the Pentagon and ending all the wars; they merely disagree over "boots on the ground" versus no-fly zones versus unmanned drones as the preferred killing methods.

But with Donald Trump roiling the waters and riling up at least half the population, this comfortable order of narrowly conflicted consensus might be about to change. His clownish splashy spectacle is exposing not so much a deep state, but a loosely connected series of shallow contaminated ponds. As an example, see the previous post about placid corporate media celebrities getting their puckered thumbs yanked right out of their mouths and throwing a group tantrum for all the world to see.

All of a sudden, everyday people are waking up to the stench emanating from the rancid pond(s), and are joining together in resistance and solidarity. They're rebelling against the same deportations, the same attacks on public education, the same assaults on the environment, the same financial corruption that had only recently enjoyed a modicum of protection under more public relations-savvy administrations run by more photogenic and literate people.

With his cabinet full of villainous oligarchs and bloodthirsty generals, you might think that Trump is simply making a mockery of his campaign promise to "drain the swamp."

But he may be more fact-based and inadvertently truthful than he's given credit for. He's not so much draining the swamp as he is behaving like a whale in a goldfish pond. In his need and greed for space and attention, he is leaving exposed a whole ecosystem of wriggling, oxygen-starved lifeforms desperate not to be exposed to the sun and become part of a massive pile of stinking dead fish.

Thanks to blowhard Trump and his spoutings, we are fighting back against Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's crusade against public schools, right after we gave a pass to Obama's Arne Duncan and his own charter school agenda of privatization. We're howling about the cruel round-ups of immigrants even as we stayed mum on sleek Obama's record deportations and imprisonments of refugee families. We're gathering in public spaces to declare that "we are all Muslims now" -- while it seems like only yesterday when we turned a blind eye to Muslims being illegally stalked by police acting in cahoots with the CIA. We're mad as hell that Trump has filled the White House with Goldman Sachs banksters, but chose to play dead when the more personable Obama did likewise.

So in the long term, we might just be better off with a clumsy breaching whale in the pond instead of the usual stealthy sharks giving their discreet free ride to corporate Remoras and shelter to all manner of bottom-feeding rentiers. 

(As you can probably tell, it's one my glass half-full days. I'll take them wherever I find them.)

Donald Trump is just not all that into the symbiotic relationships that have traditionally made America so exceptional, and its oligarchy so well-protected, and its citizens so apathetic and demoralized.


Jamie said...

As a Marxist I see the focus on the deep state as fetishism -- hiding the real superstructure. If we assume government exists to serve the economic forces of the ruling class -- then we must conclude that some things the ruling class asks of the state are not meant for public consumption. The deep state is just another tool, more hidden, than the United States. Both serve capital.

We now observe a partial schism within the deep state and the Trump administration. This schism is just a crack on the surface. Yet non-Marxists mistaken it for the core. When we plunge below the deep state and Trump, into the economic nature of this schism, we see it is a battle between global financial capital (Obama) and the last gasp of brick and mortar traditional capital (Trump). Capitalists are clashing. Exxon lusts after Russian oil and gas; whereas, the IMF, World Bank, and NATO wish to crush Russia and make it a satellite of financial capital. They don't care which corporate entity gets the oil and gas, as long as they control the profits.

Unfortunately for Trump deplorables, Marx tells us financial capital is the most advanced (and corrupt) form of capitalism. Unless Marx is wrong, financial capital will win this battle. Of course, that has nothing to do with short term predictions of the next decade. Financial capital may eat shit ... as it did under Roosevelt in the 1930s.

Zee said...

As nearly as I can understand from the NYT “ ‘splainer piece,” the Times’ reporters consider the “deep state” merely to be the federal bureaucracy, resisting and undermining Trump’s agenda at every turn. “Nothing really to worry about or see here…happens all the time to some degree under every presidential administration. So please move along.”

But despite protestations by this author at The Atlantic that an American “deep state” doesn’t even exist at all…


…I guess that the newfound conspiracy theorist in me has concluded that the deep state IS real, and is far more serious and extensive than the NYT or The Atlantic would have us believe.

To go beyond what you say, Karen, I think that the “deep state” consists not only of the entrenched federal bureaucracy that has been seriously threatened by Trump, but (if you will pardon my making additions to your list, Karen):

"a [not-so-loose] consortium of think tanks, multinational corporations, politicians, lobbyists, …media conglomerates [plutocrats and corporate members of the military-industrial complex] who set the parameters of The Possible and agree to disagree only around the margins for purposes of lively sham debate. “

I think that this definition is more in accord with Lofgren’s original description, though if I have misinterpreted what you have said, I am open to correction.

I think that Trump is in “deep” trouble if he fails to take this “deep state” opposition seriously. As are we.

(annenigma, if you have a tinfoil hat to spare, would you please pass it along to me?)

On the other hand, as I said in the last thread, the panic by the mainstream media at no longer being taken seriously by the American public—along with the nonsense that passes as “resistance” by so-called progressives—continue to keep me in stitches, e.g:

The ever-sarcastic—if none-too-bright— Sally Kohn’s illegal solution for removing Trump and replacing him with Hillbillary:


And then, of course, the continued Tea Party-ish disruptions of Republican House members’ Townhalls, that only serve to harden the positions of reluctant Trump supporters:


Hell, efforts on the part of “progressives” to disrupt the free exchange of ideas and concerns at Townhalls—or elsewhere—make even me sympathetic to Trump and the Republiclowns, and I didn’t even vote for him/them!

Go for it, lefties!

Pearl said...

Pearl Volkov (pvolkov@cogeco.ca) thinks you may be interested in the following post:

Goose-stepping Our Way Toward Pink Revolution

Patrice Ayme said...

Very interesting. Reducing the Deep State to bureaucracy is misinformation.

The Deep State is, truly, the hereditary plutocracy and its hereditary structures (for example the plutocratic universities, and their provisions for scions). The Deep State has also a Deep Mood, which is trans-generational (hint: observe the richest families hereditary grip on wealth, power, foundations, politics).

The Deep Mood hides the deep conspiracies and the plots which really worked so well (WWI, WWII, Islamism, etc.) that the vulgum does not even suspect their existence.

Karen Garcia said...


Excellent point. We must not forget the handful of families which fund our "elections" and usually get what they want in the way of policies. Why are the Democrats so gung-ho on marriage equality and bathroom rights as opposed to other civil rights? Because they doesn't rob the rich of one cent, and the rich feel they can afford to be generous when it doesn't cost them anything but furnishes them with a publicity buffer with which to shine and protect themselves.

Dynasties are indeed an integral part of the deep state, ruling class, whatever you care to call it. Thomas Piketty spelled it all out. Funny how he and his inequality thesis is no longer all the rage with liberals, now that they have Trump to signify all the evil that ever was.

El Lorenz said...

For a deeper background to the Deep State, may I suggest
1) C. Wright Mills. The Power Elite
2) David Talbot. The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America's Secret Government
3) Numerous woks of Peter Dale Scott, starting maybe with Deep Politics and the Death of JFK
4) James W. Douglass. JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters

Patrice Ayme said...

Dear Karen:
Excellent observation: insulting Trump 24/7 has replaced any analysis of US/Global plutocracy. We are led to believe that, if only the GLOBALOCRACY was re-established, complete with hordes of Sharia believers, everything would be allright...

I own but never read Piketty's book (I read enough other things of him to get an idea). I read the Devil's Chessboard (some of it).
All these books, in particular the latter, come short on the Pluto/fascist/Nazi/Ford/JP Morgan/Wilson connection.
I wrote many essays on this.
It was a massive conspiracy and a plot, we enjoy its on-going fruits, as it was not only not counterattacked, but most (pseudo) liberals have no notion of it whatsoever.

Surely they known not of the Kaiser-Wilson-extreme Anglo-Saxon, anti-French racism-WWI-Ford-Hitler-Schacht-JP Morgan-Wall Street-Morgenthau-countless US plutocrats and their corporations, and then Hitler, connection.

In that mighty galaxy, the Kennedys, Bushes and Dulles were initially second knives. By 1941, they had become major. Right now, the plutocracy is intense. The only thing that's clear, is that obsessing about Trump, who did not create it, is a way to try to perdure it.

Zee said...


I guess that I am confused--as always, it would seem.

Which civl rights--insofar as I understand them--cost the rich money, as opposed to also "costing" the rest of us as well?

Karen Garcia said...


The rich, even rich liberals who supported Hillary Clinton, are not all that entranced with the Black Lives Matter movement. They're not gung ho on public education, not when there is so much money to made from charters. Education is supposedly a civil right in America, through Grade 12. If you consider health care a basic human right, as I do, there is no support among the mega-wealthy for Medicare for All, or a single payer plan or even a public option in the current ACA. Water rights? Forget about it. Witness Flint, Standing Rock. As Gilens and Page have demonstrated, the very rich who fund our elections usually get what they want in the way of public policy. Gay rights and bathroom rights cost them nothing in taxes, so they're not complaining. The End.

Zee said...


Got it. Thank you.

Jay–Ottawa said...

Wow! So much deep-thought to read up on just to find out how the deep-state runs the world. I'll have to apply for a sabbatical from my retirement to catch up on the required reading. But how will the rest of you who work and can't take sabbaticals, or who didn't major in political philosophy, keep up with the profundities of the intelligentsia and conspiratoria? Is thought gentrification taking over the Sardonicky neighborhood?

Here, for dummies, is a simpler explanation for the political economy we live in. It works something like Einstein's e=mc2, where energy equals mass moving at the speed of light in overdrive. Or, even more simply, mass is energy in another form and vice-versa.

Now then, here's the key formula that applies to American society: m=p. Money equals power (deep state power behind the scenes); and power equals money. Hold on to power long enough and, behold, you'll wake up rich. If you're a life-long climber, the more power you achieve, the fatter your bank account; the fatter your bank account, inherited or wangled, the more power you'll wield.

Utilitarian Jeremy Bentham said we ought to support systems that lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Unh-uh. Utilitarianism clashes violently with m=p. So it's a no-go.

What the rich are always about, irrespective of dense paragraphs by Marx and Bentham, is seeing how far they (the rich) can push the poverty line down for as many people as possible, short of inciting a revolution. In the West's recent past, the rich, hiding behind their golden curtains, fared well. The huts were quiet and the mansions loud with merriment behind soundproof walls.

Trump, however, likes to step out in front of the golden curtains to brag and diss. He's the new point man in the White House, which is no place for a loose cannon. The dark state––the rich and their lieutenants––is divided over his tactics. They worry that Trump is pushing down the underclass too openly.

Because the world ignores the intelligentsia (most of whose works are too ponderous) and the conspiratoria (most of whose theories are too ethereal), the elites continue to run the show so that the rich get as rich as the poor will allow. If Trump keeps doing center stage what has always been managed quietly behind the scenes, the underclass will catch on all by themselves, without the convoluted efforts of the intelligentsia and the conspiratoria. If Trump isn't more careful, he could go down in history as the midwife of the next revolution.

As has been said repeatedly, it's about the money, dummy. It's a class war.

Issues like sexual orientation (bathroom assignment was today's top story in the NY Times digital), drugs, guns, privacy and religion are not where it's at. Those are distractions. Keep in mind the formula: m=p, which explains everything worth knowing. If you don't want to be confused as you struggle for survival through the years, just follow the money, dummies, both yours and theirs. Enlightenment happens when you grasp the import of m=p. You were born into a class war and will probably die in it. If you want financial security for yourself and others, you'll have to put up your dukes, win the class war and rewrite the formula.