The “Deep State”: Why Trump’s Conspiracy Theory Is Both Bullsh*t And Dangerous

If you frequent the alt-Right blogosphere (which you definitely shouldn’t if you want to maintain some semblance of sanity, but which you definitely should if you want a window into the propaganda campaign Steve Bannon has engineered), you’ve probably seen the term “deep state” bandied about.

Basically, the alt-Right (which you should note is distinct from sane members of the GOP) wants Trump’s support base to believe that there’s a deeply rooted conspiracy against the populist agenda. That conspiracy, Breitbart and its poisonous progeny will tell you, is being orchestrated by the Left (which has somehow become synonymous with the uber-wealthy in Trump’s alternative universe) and an evil cabal of bureaucrats, intelligence officials, and (hilariously) tech startup founders with designs on perpetuating a global order that keeps the downtrodden masses underfoot.

That’s so absurd that it would be laughable under normal circumstances. Indeed if someone knocked on your door at 9 p.m. and told you that story, you’d probably shoo that person from your doorstep, slam the door, tell your family to go into the bedroom, and call the police. And yet somehow, that ridiculous conspiracy theory has become gospel to large swaths of the American electorate.

Well, to anyone buying that bullsh*t, I would encourage you to read the following excerpts from a WaPo article out Tuesday entitled “What An Actual ‘Deep State’ Looks Like.”

One particularly important thing to note here is that the whole “deep state” theory is yet another example of the Trump administration adopting the Erdogan playbook (for more on that see here). Only in Erdogan’s case, there’s at least an actual “deep state” tradition in Turkey, which means that while using that tradition to perpetuate an autocracy is still bad, at least it doesn’t emanate purely from a make-believe world that only exists on tinfoil hat blogs. Or, summarized in one great tweet:

Here’s more via WaPo:

Key figures in the White House see themselves locked in a battle with the “deep state” – a term they’re using, as my colleagues explained, to describe “a group of Obama-aligned critics, federal bureaucrats and intelligence figures” as well as the media. Stephen K. Bannon, the White House chief strategist who once ran far-right publication Breitbart, has reportedly spoken “at length” with President Trump about his view that the “deep state” is undermining Trump’s presidency.

The consequences of such paranoia can be seen in Trump’s Twitter outburst over the weekend. He accused his predecessor of tapping his phones (without offering any evidence) and framed his administration as the victim of “witch hunts” and “McCarthyism.” On Monday, reports emerged that FBI Director James B. Comey was “incredulous” over Trump’s allegations.

Nevertheless, there has been a great deal of chatter – and a good number of articlespondering the “deep state” and its reach in the United States. As this newsletter discussed last month, it’s not just Bannon who’s throwing the term around. Some observers on the American left see the nexus of the national security apparatus, arms companies and corporate lobbies as the basis for a kind of all-pervasive shadow governmentdominating political life in the country.

But the “deep state” in its more well-established contexts is something more concrete. The term is most closely associated with the turbulent politics of Turkey, a country whose democracy was for decades routinely interrupted by cabals in the military and civil bureaucracy. To this day, the suspected machinations of the deep state – secretive conspiracies hatched in the corridors of power and removed from the democratic process – shadow the nation’s politics.

The concept of the “deep state” also resonates strongly in countries where the military is vast and difficult to check. Think of Egypt, where an army-led putsch ousted an elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013; or Pakistan, where the military and its powerful intelligence arm remain the most influential actors within the state.


But nobody in any context would ever identify as part of a “deep state.” In Turkey, the term has always been invoked by politicians in power, often justifiably fearing plots against their rule. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan built his political career by weaponizing the public’s anger at the historic deep state.

The distinction between these countries and the United States is incredibly important: “In the American case, the bureaucrats themselves don’t control, or want to control, the system they are trying to protect,” wrote Cook. “People in the White House, the Pentagon, the State and Justice departments, Congress, and the intelligence community are leaking to the press because they have no choice in an administration where officials have unexplained links with Russia, an array of conflicts of interest, and have promoted soft forms of white nationalism and fascism that threaten basic ideals of American democracy.”


Turkish experts will tell you that discussion of the “deep state” flourishes in a climate of conspiracy and political polarization. It encourages the public to doubt the pillars of civil society – from the judiciary to the press – and take shelter in the shadow of a populist leader. That’s where the parallels to American politics in the age of Trump start to become all too real.


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