I’ve been fascinated to watch the recent public conversation about the “deep state” unfold. I had been used to hearing this phrase from the far left, you know the type that wear sweaters and jackets with those leather patches on the elbows and give long-winded speeches at socialist enclaves on college campuses, those guys. They believe that the left is weak because of some kind of elaborate CIA-driven conspiracy to suppress socialism (and communism) that includes the deep state, the shadow state, the military-industrial complex, or some combination thereof.
I always found it cute, quaint even, how the far left had to invent a conspiracy theory to explain why their policies didn’t work or why they didn’t get what they wanted. It just had to be because of the monopoly man smoking cigars in the back room plotting with industrialists and the CIA boogyman. Today, it has been incredible to watch the right seize on this tired old trope of the left. Now the deep state is an entrenched liberal agenda inside our government, subverting Donald Trump and preventing him from, “draining the swamp.” President Trump isn’t getting what he wants because there is a conspiracy against him according to his supporters.
Jon D. Michaels writes about this subject in an article appearing in the latest edition of Foreign Affairs. He makes what struck me as an almost tongue in cheek argument, that yes, the deep state does exist but in America it is different and it is good. Outside conspiracy theory circles, Michaels rightly points out that the term deep state has also been used as political science jargon. In that context, the deep state is something used in reference to countries like Pakistan where there is a collusion between the state’s intelligence apparatus and mafia-like criminal elements.
Michaels tells us at once that there is no deep state and that the deep state in America is a good thing. He says that the US government is filled with too many middle class bureaucrats pushing their own agendas within their own agencies for there ever to be full-scale collusion. He also says that of course these bureaucrats wish to protect their institutions, safeguard foreign relationships, and defend their budgets. When you have statements from Trump administration officials like, “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment,” (from Steve Bannon in this case), it is no wonder why some government employees are on edge.
It all begs the question: is the illuminanti really that bad?
The answer to that question depends on where you sit. If you think that Donald Trump is literally a Messiah sent to us by Jesus who will one day rise into the heavens inside a pillar of pure white light, then the Illumanati is the work of the devil. If you are one of those people who believes that Trump is literally Hitler and is going to destroy America by ushering in race riots and bankrupting the country, than you are probably on the left and the deep state just went from your arch nemesis to your best friend.
You know we live in interesting times when the left is in love with the CIA and the FBI while the right is in love with Assad and Putin.
So yes, bureaucrats defend their turf and during a time when a politically inexperienced president comes to power making dangerous, even reckless statements, it can be no surprise that those bureaucrats work to protect their life’s work. It is also fascinating to watch the left fall in love with our Generals. Great Scott! McMasters, Mattis, Kelly, and others; these gentleman are now seen not as right-wing hawks but as figures of stability. A man who served his country as a soldier for decades hardly wants to, “bring everything crashing down and destroy all of today’s establishment.”
The Foreign Affairs article on the subject gets one thing right, Trump has a big problem. It isn’t a criminal element within our government though, it is bureaucrats who feel alienated by his administration and are leaking details to the press, many of them appearing to be factual. A great way to make this problem worse is represented by the speech Trump gave to the CIA soon after his election in which he portrayed himself as a buffoon, a P.T. Barnum thinking he is going to con a bunch of career spies. Whatever you think of President Trump, this only made the situation worse but just like Trump Tweets, this is a president who appears determined to destroy himself.
For the faithful, Trump’s many mistakes will always be rationalized as another case of him playing 4-dimension chess. What appears idiotic to most is a stroke of grand strategy to the believer. Trying to talk and walk people through these things in a logical manner gets one nowhere I find. Today, we’re all conspiracy theorists. Everyone gets an individualized conspiracy theory to fit their world view. Who controls the universe? The Koch brothers or Soros, depending on who you vote for.
Personally, I find myself growing much more conservative. Perhaps it is because I’ve gotten older, maybe because I served in the military myself, and maybe even because I’m a product of my education. I want to preserve the United States and all of the great things about it while making incremental changes to improve our situation. I don’t want radical change or revolution. I’ve seen first hand what happens when you open that door in places like Iraq and Syria. Once that door is open, there is no closing it, and you don’t want to know what comes screaming out of it from your basement. As Henry Kissinger wrote, a good politician operates on the outer periphery of what is possible. To do otherwise risks stagnation or on the other hand making empty utopian promises that can’t be fulfilled.
While America loses its mind as we go through this great era of uncertainty, it seems as if the deep state are holding things down, waiting in a holding pattern until a more workable solution presents itself in terms of a new President. There is a message here, but it isn’t what most people think it is. It isn’t about left or right. It isn’t about Trump or Obama. It is actually something a lot darker, which is why most will prefer a simple and partisan explanation.
The message is that it doesn’t really matter who the President is. The institutions of government are even bigger than the White House, they have a mind of their own, and they protect themselves like a living organism. The most powerful man in the world isn’t quite as powerful as most people think. When an unorthodox President like Donald Trump gets elected and even he can’t make big changes in government, that should give people pause.
Most people don’t want to question why this is, because the answer is uncomfortable as it goes to the heart of our institutions and way beyond my cartoony references to the Illiumanti.
Featured image courtesy of YouTube.