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Sunday, March 12, 2017


"Deep state" rumors miss the trees for the forest

by Tom Sullivan

Marc Ambinder of the Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism engages in some "deep state" mythbusting in the Washington Post. The topic presents itself because the fever swamps are atwitter with rumors that bureaucrats in the government-within-the-government are actively seeking to thwart the will of the Man Who Would Be President. The narrative misses the point (or at least, mine).

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer answered a question about the deep state on Friday:

“I think there’s no question when you have eight years of one party in office that there are people who stay in government who are affiliated with, joined and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration,” he said. “So I don't think it should come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during the eight years of the last administration and, you know, may have believed that agenda and want to continue to seek it."

“I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone,” he added.

The New York Times reported days earlier:

The concept of a “deep state” — a shadowy network of agency or military officials who secretly conspire to influence government policy — is more often used to describe countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where authoritarian elements band together to undercut democratically elected leaders. But inside the West Wing, Mr. Trump and his inner circle, particularly his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, see the influence of such forces at work within the United States, essentially arguing that their own government is being undermined from within.
Ambinder takes on a few of the myths surrounding the latest reactionary bugaboo: that the "there exists a group of unaccountable men and women" who are the hidden source of national security policy; that they exist beyond oversight; that they are beyond the reach of elections, etc. Ambinder answers these and other myths. About the last, he writes:
Mike Lofgren, a former congressional staffer with significant experience in the defense budget world, calls the deep state “almost impervious to change.” Versions of this argument persist on talk radio. “The people in Washington are not just going to sit idly by and let election results determine whether or not [change] happens to them,” Rush Limbaugh said this month.
The deep state is the latest "fifth column" narrative of betrayal from within. Conservative radio host Mark Levin alleges Obama and the Democrats have “squirreled their appointees into the bureaucracy” to engage in a "silent coup" against Trump. But for the Trump administration the narrative functions rather neatly as a preemptive explanation for his administration's own failures. Andrew Sullivan sees Trump's unsupported accusations of wiretapping against President Obama and attacks against the press as "designed to erode the very notion of an empirical reality, independent of his own ideology and power." Peter Beinart believes that deep state rumors are a diversion that will allow Trump to dismiss as partisan hackery any findings by the Justice Department that his administration has ties to the Russian government.

A reader sent a link to Bill Moyers' 2014 interview with Mike Lofgren in which he discusses his article, "Anatomy of the Deep State." The deep state, he argues, is not a conspiracy. It is hiding in plain sight and a "natural evolution when so much money and political control is at stake." It is "a hybrid of corporate America and the national security state" that has evolved over time:
The Deep State is the big story of our time. It is the red thread that runs through the war on terrorism, the financialization and deindustrialization of the American economy, the rise of a plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.
But the deep state explanation "based on the twin pillars of national security imperative and corporate hegemony" misses the trees for the forest. It describes a symptom and avoids examining the cause. As I have argued for years, the corporate model, this legal technology for engaging in what Robert Nozick describes as "capitalist acts between consenting adults," has metastasized into a system where humans serve what they created. The corporation has gone Skynet. And as in the Terminator series, there is no system core to shut down. What Lofgren describes as the "'Washington Consensus': financialization, outsourcing, privatization, deregulation and the commodifying of labor" are not state but corporate imperatives. The deep state is a symptom, not the infection itself. The diversion is itself a diversion from confronting that.

Oh, but we like our corporations. Some misbehave, of course, and we condemn those, but never the organizing technology itself. Corporations make us money. They pay us. Virtually everything we own was made by them — including the cool stuff. We love our cars and our televisions, too. Yet without those technologies, urban sprawl and gated bedroom communities could not exist to erode consensus in the common good. Bringing to heel the underlying business technology that a few, short years ago brought the world economy to its knees cannot, shall not, be questioned. We cannot even bring those nominally in control of it to justice.

Technology is morally neutral, or so we believe. Guns don't kill people; people do. Our enemies have faces like the predators humans faced before leaving the trees. Corporations do not, therefore cannot be our enemies. Technology is just stuff and not a threat in and of itself, only in how humans use or misuse it. Tell it to John Connor.