November 26, 2021
“The Deep State” refers to a locus of true power, hidden, pulling strings behind the scenes. Journalist David Rohde discussed his 2020 book about this, at the New York State Writers Institute’s 9/25 Albany Book Festival.
No, Rohde’s book did not expose the Deep State. Instead exposing the fevered fantasies about it.
The term actually originated in 1990s Turkey, and then Egypt, where something like a deep state was a reality. The idea being that elected governments were just a veneer, their doings without real consequence, the shots being called elsewhere. Mainly by the military, in concert with powerful economic players. In Turkey, that’s been superseded by Erdogan’s autocracy. Egypt’s deep state was overthrown in 2011 but returned even more powerfully in 2013. Pakistan’s another case, its deep state centered on the military and its associated intelligence outfit, never really out of power.
In America, the basic idea long had resonance on the left. The old term “military-industrial complex” entailed something like that. Rohde also pointed to the 1970s Church Committee, investigating the CIA, with a whiff that it was more malignly powerful than we realized. And there were echoes in the “Occupy” movement.
The far right version of the “deep state” trope, in Rohde’s telling, originated with Peter Dale Scott’s 2007 book, The Road to 9/11. When Scott appeared on Alex Jones’s conspiracy-crazed show, it was off to the races. Not just 9/11, but the Oklahoma City bombing, and Sandy Hook were all staged by the government, for some nefarious reason — like a pretext for confiscating all guns. Which, you know, actually happened.
Then came 2016. Jones and his ilk insanely cast Trump as the hero who’d smash the deep state. But of course it would resist. Steve Bannon’s right-wing Breitbart News, in December, before Trump took office, rang a warning bell that the deep state was bent on thwarting him at every turn and bringing him down.
Many people in government did try to stop things Trump was doing. Considering them wrong and destructive, which was true. But it’s cuckoo to imagine some organized secret conspiracy to illegitimately screw Trump. (Two failed impeachments might at least have proven the “deep state” actually impotent.)
Nevertheless, this notion of a dark plot against Trump was trotted out continually — all the “witch hunt” rhetoric — as a way to revv up his cult followers into even greater frenzy. And it got worse, transmogrifying into QAnon.
“Q” is/was a supposed government insider anonymously ripping off the covers. The “deep state” conspiracy comprises pedophile baby eaters. All the major Democrats are in on it. Trump is waging a secret war against them. On the day of reckoning, “The Storm,” they will all be arrested (executed?) with Trump returned to office in glory. Millions continue to seriously believe this lunacy, despite the march of events since last November (and their putative savior being a mad incompetent fool).
And what does this QAnon story resemble? Obviously the “end of days” and Christ’s second coming. The congruences between Trumpism and religion are indeed striking. For many American “Christians” today, “Christian” is really more a cultural signifier than a true religious faith. For that, they look instead now to Trump. Religion is always a flight from rationality. This Trumpian religion flings reason to the ground and stomps on it.