The Deep State

Since Trump became President (or more accurately, took up residence in the White House), we’ve heard repeated accusations about the so-called “deep state.” The phrase is meant to denigrate government workers, and it has a lot in common with  other rhetoric employed by this administration, which labels immigrants “rapists and murderers,” Islamic citizens “terrorists,” and whistleblowers “traitors.”

It’s all shorthand for “here are people to fear and hate.”

Given the lack of precision with which Trump employs language, I initially assumed that pretty much any civil servant would meet his definition of the “deep state.” But over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall did a “deep dive” into the term–its accuracy (if any) and the identity of the presumably nefarious deep staters.

The phrase “deep state” originally comes from Turkey, where a “deep state” run by the military and security services allowed democratic politics to operate within prescribed bounds — but no further. The real government wasn’t the president or prime minister of the day but this “deep state.” It was autonomous and dominant and self-perpetuating.

In the first weeks of the Trump administration this phrase was taken up by the President and his entourage and applied to the U.S. Over three years it has become the catch-all term for unnamed enemies of the President plotting against him from within the federal bureaucracy.

Although–surprise!–here was no evil cabal lurking within the federal bureaucracy, Marshall and his reporters discovered something no less troubling.

They called what they found the “Conservative Deep State.” It wasn’t composed of shadowy forces motivated by conspiratorial theories, as the term might suggest. In fact, it was all out in the open.

We are talking about a dense network of right-wing lobbies, pressure groups, nurseries of political talent and prefab legislation, well-funded organizations usually operating at the state level which collectively create a strong rightward tilt in American governance. Elections remain critical. But they are contests on playing fields that are staked out, tilted and furrowed by organizing and money between elections.

Why is it, as parties frequently exchange the presidency and control of Congress, that state laws and regulations on everything from consumer protection to labor rights to voting seem to tilt steadily to the right? Why are Republicans so successful at gerrymandering and holding state legislative chambers?

The answer is this deep network. And you already know some of the names: The Koch Network, The American Legislative Exchange Council, The Federalist Society. Many others operate just as effectively, just below the radar.

There are certainly center-left analogs to all these groups, but none have managed to recreate the same levels of organization, funding or success that the Conservative Deep State enjoys today.

The operation of these networks, more than anything else, explains why Republicans control far more state governments than we would expect from their numbers, and why Americans can’t seem to enact policies that, according to survey research, enjoy overwhelming support.

Give credit where credit is due: the GOP is far, far more disciplined than the Democratic Party.  (The reasons are a subject for a different post.) That discipline allows them to do more with less.

The linked article was first in a series of reports on aspects of the Conservative Deep State.

Earlier this year we decided to publish a series on this topic — to commission a series of originally reported pieces on particular parts of the Conservative Deep State, how it functions, what it does, how it not only wins elections and helps pass laws but creates a right-wing ballast anchoring national and, even more, state and local politics on the right, even as public opinion on many issues shifts in the opposite direction.

As I read the linked article and those that followed, I kept thinking of The Purloined Letter, by Edgar Allen Poe, where the object of the detective’s search was hidden in plain sight.

It turns out that, despite the name, the “Deep State” isn’t very deep at all. It’s right in front of us–subverting democracy.


  1. “It turns out that, despite the name, the “Deep State” isn’t very deep at all. It’s right in front of us–subverting democracy.”

    LOL! Considering the title of this blog and as I began reading, I came to my own foregone conclusion as to the truth of our current political situation. I have copied and pasted “my” conclusion above; the last line of this blog. “What we see is what we got!” As for the Republican’s choice of presidential candidate in 2015, to paraphrase a favorite old song; “They Knew He Was A Snake When They Nominated Him”. I have been searching for their unreasonable reasoning with that choice; it has been right in front of me the entire time. That is WHY they chose him over 16 viable actual Republican candidates. The only surprise is how deep it goes and how wide spread it is throughout this country. I have been looking behind the public figures for those “shadowy figures” and “presumably nefarious deep staters” when they have been center stage all along. The most nefarious are those thousands we see at Trump rallies; they outnumber us, they are better organized and they are backed by the 1-2% of this country with all of the money.

    I did reach another conclusion; Richard Belzer and I are not off-the-wall conspiracy theorists, we have been right all along. Just because we are paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get us…we are in their cross hairs.

  2. heck, ive watched it as the rich,wall street,and its following ,,elected,turds in both parties exchage our democracy for wealth,power,control,and have a excuse to do it,small at first,then it was hidden well,guess what, we now have a race to see who gets it all. trying to run this present admin like a corp,has really given rise to where were headed,and whos signature is on it..( now you cant even vote em out)but,we now have ignorance,media medicated,and no sense of value as a whole,in the voters edge. watching this at 64 after all the greed has been exposed,its a shame to watch what so many have died for become a disgrace and lose of dignity . deep state,waste of words, like the swamp, we knew who it was, we did nothing to stop it…like the third reich..

  3. Trump is the perfect mouthpiece for promoting the insane ravings of Breitbart and Steve Bannon. He is an empty vessel, intellectually, so anything that he perceives to help him promote himself is what is vacant mind latches onto. Trump couldn’t define “deep state” in any words, because he doesn’t understand the concept or the consequences of his words and actions.

    Unlike Hitler, Trump is wagged by those who kiss his ass and feed him bullshit that he thinks he thought of. Mike Pompeo, for example has to be pretty smart; corrupt to the bone, but smart enough to be able to manipulate the intellectual dwarf to promote himself. He graduated first in his class at the Naval Academy. What a waste of a potentially good officer. Well, now he is in the shit pile he helped create at the behest of the psychopath in chief.

    Good luck, Mike…and Rudy….and Mitch….and Ben……and Rick……

  4. I think one look at how the whistleblowers in #UkraineGate are being treated versus the whistleblowers under a Democratic President is evidence enough there is in fact, a “Deep State” which serves the Democratic Party.

    The Obama administration was one of the worst on their treatment of actual whistleblowers; think Manning and Snowden for revealing actual military secrets and damaging evidence against the CIA, NSA and FBI. Yes, they were spying on all American citizens. Think Julian Assange and Wikileaks.

    The CIA officer(s) behind #UkraineGate are heroes for pointing out wrongdoing by our President. What about Manning’s evidence of military and CIA wrongdoing? She’s being jailed again for not providing false testimony against Assange.

    As we’ve already concluded, we don’t have a democracy in this country — it’s an Oligarchy. Are there factions within the Ruling Classes?

    Most definitely!

    Dwight D. Eisenhower talked about the growing power of the Deep State. Both parties are ruled by different factions. Both are supported by propaganda media – one side “liberal” and one side “conservative”.

    If you think only conservative deep states exist, you haven’t been paying attention and may be guilty of taking the blue pill. 😉

    The problem is Trump and his crew cannot properly articulate the facts and neither can their media. Their propaganda blames the other side’s propaganda and back and forth they go playing the blame game and fundraising simultaneously. Even Joe Biden is running campaign ads based on his victimization. #Classic

    What’s hilarious is you’re not a “patriot” unless you subscribe to one side or the other, but the truth is neither side are patriots. They are both being played. 😉

  5. ALEC and the Koch brothers are very much in control of the majority of Indiana’s legislative members.

    If there happens to be a Democrat running against an R for any state office the R network of Dark Money is generously poured into the election campaigns of their already owned GOP legislators or any new ones that they want to place into office to ensure that state offices remain in their control.

  6. Hillary Clinton tried to tell us years ago that there was a “vast, right-wing conspiracy,” and everyone thought she was nuts. As it turns out, she knew what she was talking about.

  7. The political wars in this country as they were in prewar Europe are between the future and the past. Most people understand that the future will be what it is, we are not individually in control of defining it, but we are in control of adapting to whatever comes.

    There are some folks who are unable to do that because of what they were born with and into. They are some combination of too entitled by the past, too tribal, too needing to be in control to adapt. One of the consequences of the need to be in control is love of order. Who are my superiors and who are my subordinates. What are the rules which if followed lead to more subordinates to me. They love the military, corporations, team sports, any structure that defines where they belong and how to rise in power by beating others.

    Those people are frustrated, afraid, and angry about the possibility of a future different than what they are adapted to. To them adaptation is not something that changes but instead something static. Order eliminates the need for change and therefore adaptation. They are great at following and leading as long as order and their position and the process to win are not threatened.

    They see life as power to be won and lack of order to be losing.

    Should those of us who see life as progress and evolution and therefore ongoing adaptation adapt to their rigidity or resist the order that they bring to the table?

    Remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The answer therefore is no. The human race is growing too fast in numbers and technology to afford power and stasis.

  8. I agree with Todd this AM.
    It’s ALL about control — who will control the government & the country.
    It hasn’t been about serving for a long time — maybe never. (Although I think there may have been more altruistic-leaning folks several decades back.)
    That’s why Trump is so in love with Putin and other autocrats. Ultimately they have total control. And, it seems money is the key to having total control.
    And the more this situation involving Trump, Giuliani, the Ukraine, et al unfolds, the more it would appear to be clear I can rest my case.

  9. Not that I am recommending it, but IF there was a “deep state” in the U.S. Government, Trump would have had a bullet in his head years ago. The sheer fact that he remains in his position is evidence that his claim is full of crap.

  10. As a confirmed Socialist, it is easy to look back on and track the Corporate Reactionary Right and their growth, since Goldwater. Nixon may have failed the “purity” test. Nixon did understand politics and the need to reach out to Jim Crow with his Southern Strategy.

    Since Nixon it has been a matter of gathering in various groups to vote for the Corporate Reactionary Right Wing Agenda: Evangelicals, gun toting militia types and Neo-Confederates. Wedge issues are used to gather in the various pieces.

    Interesting article in today’s Guardian:
    Revealed: Google made large contributions to climate change deniers.
    Google has made “substantial” contributions to some of the most notorious climate deniers in Washington despite its insistence that it supports political action on the climate crisis.

    The list includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that was instrumental in convincing the Trump administration to abandon the Paris agreement and has criticized the White House for not dismantling more environmental rules.

    Google is also listed as a sponsor for an upcoming annual meeting of the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organization that supports conservative groups including the Heartland Institute, a radical anti-science group that has chided the teenage activist Greta Thunberg for “climate delusion hysterics”.

    It donates to such groups, people close to the company say, to try to influence conservative lawmakers, and – most importantly – to help finance the de-regulatory agenda the groups espouse.

    One source who is familiar with Google’s decision-making defended the company’s funding of CEI.

    “When it comes to regulation of technology, Google has to find friends wherever they can and I think it is wise that the company does not apply litmus tests to who they support,” the source said.

  11. Todd, Manning and Snowden were NOT Whistleblowers. A Whistleblower works within the system’s structure to ensure that improper and illegal deeds are brought forth in an appropriate manner and to appropriate people. Manning and Snowden never even attempted to work within the system. They both simply grabbed all the confidential information that they could and then distributed it without so much as determining whether U.S. assets overseas might be at risk.

    I am a Whistleblower. I pay for it every day in lost opportunities. But I did stop some severely improper things (which went on under both Republican and Democratic administrations) and were in the billions of dollars.

    Don’t lump me in with a couple of attention-seeking assholes who indiscriminately distributed huge amounts of classified material.

  12. Bob, thank you for you service.

    I place a positive connotation on the Deep State, being the non-elected and not politically appointed government work force who provide services within the context of the Constitution and to fulfill the laws of the land.

    And as in your case, blow the whistle (within the law) on those who don’t.

  13. Yep Sheila, you are right about the deep State and the Turks. and as it’s been brought out, Donald Trump is all wrapped up in Turkey, so it didn’t take much for the deep state ideology to take root in Donald Trump’s manure soaked mind.

    And since Donald Trump is also a fan of Adolf Hitlers speeches, Hitler also used a version of the deep state. Mostly it was the Jews, but also other groups that he considered subversive to his goal of mind control domination.

    I think Pete Buttigieg really put a Target on his back with his announcement that religion needs to be taxed because they are trying to influence politics and control individuals destiny.

    And Todd, granted there are shenanigans on both sides, but the right-wing is the most egregious and of course the loudest. White supremacists are right-wing, the Nazi party is right wing, fascism is right wing, they are also socialist. When you listen to all things the GOP roils against, they are purveyors of what they claim they despise.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot of stupid people out there that like to be told what to think instead of picking up a book or researching an idea or viewpoint. Lazy lemming-like sheeple are the result.

  14. Here’s a little known fact! Agent Orange is capable of learning. He’s studied under Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong un, President Erdogan, Bashar al Assad, some of the best tyrants.

  15. In the same way that Bigfoot DOES NOT exist, “deep state” does not exist. Both Bigfoot and deep state (as terms) were invented because “civil servant” and “frightened of the dark beneath the trees” did not carry connotations severe and threatening enough to communicate the “deep” level of fear certain people feel about complex systems they don’t understand.

    Any mildly organized effort to influence opinion and policy (scouting, Hamilton County Young Democrats, Chamber of Commerce, the Lutheran Church, the Noblesville Boosters Club, and so on) fits every definition of deep state I have heard so far–organized to shape opinion and policy…and funded by people whom I don’t know.

    If every effort to influence opinion is “deep”ly threatening to your “state” of mind, please feel free to give up the very idea of democracy.

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