By Penny Smith
I generally subscribe to one mainstream conservative magazine for two reasons: (a) it lets me know what the opposition is thinking and (b) it puts me on mailing lists that bring to the house truly awful solicitations on behalf of the fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party. Last week a plea for money from the Conservative Caucus found its way to my post office box. It coincided with the appearance of cable TV advertising for a new book, Killing the Deep State by Jerome Corsi, which warned viewers that evil was abroad in the land and determined to take out our Dear Leader.
Apparently, there is a coup under way against, of course, President Trump. It’s being run “by elements of the intelligence community, particularly CIA and NSA, abetted by Obama holdovers … and the leftist media.” All those bad actors are aligned with the Resistance movement in an effort to ensure the swamp remains full.
One of their specific asks is term limits, which is probably the best way to cede your government to organizations like ALEC or to lobbyists, who will have no term limits, will understand the arcane rules of legislating better than temporary amateurs, and will become the “go to” experts for law-making. Another is to sign a petition to GOP leaders asking them to stand with Trump against the “Deep State Obama holdovers within the federal government, the Liberal Democrats, the dishonest media, George Soros and the radical left.” What a bunch of losers, eh?
In the same petition they make clear that Republican leadership “should NOT be collaborating with the likes of CNN, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi or the New York Times.” Of course the fact that our founders designed our government for conversation, collaboration and compromise is immaterial.
(An Aside: I think “holdovers is code for the Civil Service, not that we would want anyone who’s an expert helping us in Washington DC, would we?)
So, let’s have a little context about this wicked (cue the evil music) Deep State. Initially it was a term associated with the Soviet Union and Turkey, pointing to the genuine operators of government behind the public curtain. You could have the trappings of public involvement, like elections and elected officials, but shag-nasty types hidden away in luxurious basements somewhere made the real decisions.
Friedrich Hayek, beloved economist of the radical right Ayn Rand Brotherhood, wrote in The Road to Serfdom (1947) about the dangers of heavy industry monopolies that arose during World War II. “Some of the men who during the war have tasted the powers of coercive control … will find it difficult to reconcile themselves with the humbler roles they will play in peaceful times.” (Cue the rise of American oligarchs.) C. Wright Mills in The Power Elite (1956) claimed that an elite residing in the military, business and government were the “real leaders” of the state and had positioned themselves beyond the electorate or outside electoral control.
Dwight David Eisenhower foreshadowed a “Deep State” appearance in his farewell address (1961). He warned of the deleterious effects of an alliance among a Cold War military, an arms industry and a government willing to spend a significant part of the national budget on guns.
Perhaps no one has done as much as the former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren in bringing the term into the current political era. In February, 2014, he published an essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State” on the Bill Moyers web site. That essay then became the book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government (2014).
Lofgren argues that a visible government operates in our nation’s capital, but a “more shadowy, more indefinable government that is not explained in Civics 101 or observable to tourists” also functions there. However, he’s not concerned about the take-down of Donald Trump, who was not yet President in 2014, but the obstructions Republicans presented to Barack Obama.
Building on his initial book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (2011), he points out that with the election of 2008 the sole objective of the GOP was to thwart Obama and the Democrats until a Republican would once again become President. Party leadership was willing to do anything toward that goal, including compromising the progress and prosperity of our nation. And, to their detriment, Democrats were unable to muster either the courage or narrative necessary to persuade the public of that fact.
Among the things the GOP did was collude with the Deep State, a secondary government hiding in plain sight, that ensured what money we spent went to the military, the makers of their weapons, and contractors who supplied them with essential services. So, we continued combat operations in the Middle East as our national infrastructure collapsed, our economy languished, and taxes on the wealthy evaporated.
According to Lofgren “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 plutocratic social structure and political dysfunction.” And “the Deep State is so heavily entrenched, so well protected by surveillance, firepower, money and its ability to co-opt resistance that it is almost impervious to change.”
However, here’s the interesting thing about Lofgren’s Deep State and the one touted by the Conservative Caucus – the latter (the Conservative Caucus) suggests doing things that ensure Lofgren’s Deep state not only survives, but prevails. In other words, there appears to be two Deep States out there, composed of some of the same people, but operating toward different ends.
All of this Deep State stuff sounds conspiracy-theory bound, something you’d hear about on a Rush Limbaugh radio hour or a Glenn Beck TV spot. It leans toward black helicopters and secret desert encampments. However, I’m convinced that Eisenhower was onto something in 1961; there are men willing to do whatever it takes to enhance their bottom lines. The rise of the WW II military industrial colossus did have the potential to devolve into political dysfunction for the general public. And it has.
This must be my Mike Lofgren week, since I’m using arguments from his first book (The Party Is Over) as the basis for this short essay. Lofgren, a Republican in good standing and a long-time Washington DC staffer, worked for 28 years on the Hill. When he left, he posted an essay (“Goodbye to All That: reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult”) explaining his departure.
Basically, he claims government had become dysfunctional. However, one party is more to blame for that dysfunction and it’s the one to which he’s linked:
Both parties are rotten – how could they not be … But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.
(An Aside: That argument is not necessarily unique, nor is the retreat of some well-meaning Eisenhower-like Republican moderates. They became the Never-Trumpers. Or, note, also, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein’s It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism, 2012. They argue “one of the two major parties, the Republican Party, has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic policy regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” And that was written three years before Trump announced his candidacy.)
Lofgren doesn’t mince words in his essay. “It should have been evident … that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult.” “One side – or a sizeable faction of one side – has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.” The GOP belief system is an “absolutist, authoritarian mindset that is increasingly hostile to democratic values of reason, compromise and conciliation.” It seeks “polarizing division.”
There are three basic tenets that motivate the GOP’s current ruling coalition. First, they care exclusively about their rich contributors and develop policies to please them (note those tax cuts, the end of regulations, and the continuing destruction of worker opposition).
Second, “they worship at the altar of Mars.” That means, they are the party of war, the military-industrial machine, and they feed it endlessly and without adequate oversight or strategic planning as well as tolerate its many campaigns. They have found that dwelling in the land of uber-patriotism mutes opposition to such policies, while lining the pockets of their industrialist friends.
Third, they have tied “old time religion” to specific legislative goals, ensuring that God is on their side and, consequently, all opposition must be ungodly. Lofgren argues that the “rise of politicized religious fundamentalism” may be the key factor in the GOP make-over, promoting anti-intellectualism, hostility to science, and culturally divisive policies.
Unfortunately, Lofgren opines, “If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America’s status as the world’s leading power.” Well, given our current global reputation, that certainly seems prophetic.
As the GOP that Lofgren finds so repulsive came into power, they formulated a new “Washington Consensus.” It included financialization (help Wall Street, forget about consumer protections, let Detroit crash); outsourcing (if contractors can do it, then let them do it, even if it wastes money – all hail the $648 toilet seat); privatization (of course, Betsy DeVos, champion of vouchers, is Secretary of Education); deregulation (oil extraction off Carolina Beach, fracking in the mountains – what could go wrong?); commodification of labor (right to work laws, no minimum wages, limited workplace safety protections); and American Exceptionalism (go it alone abroad). Spicing up the formula is crying “terrorism” whenever the opposition becomes too effective. Any of that sound familiar?
In his book Lofgren makes the case that Democrats have not yet found a way to intervene in the new political dynamic. They are incapable of messaging, while their political opponents are masters. Leaders on the right hate; leaders on the left fear. That’s not a great way to counter a full-blown assault on democracy.
We have replaced rule of law and a government of, by and for the people with dictatorship of the marketplace. Supposedly, the Invisible Hand operates by some new form of natural law and is self-correcting. However, behind that Hand are some very visible, determined capitalists playing a high stakes game low-information voters have no idea is even on the table.
(Cue swelling Zombie music.)