Deep State of the Union

The 20th-century Turkish concept of a “deep state” first spread to other Mediterranean countries such as Italy, and is now slowly being picked up by American pundits. Ex–Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren’s 2016 book The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of the Shadow Government offers a snarky and intelligent tour d’horizon of some of America’s more or less perpetual ruling organs.

The original Turkish version of the term is, of course, conspiratorial-minded: No matter who won the elections, the Kemalist military-intelligence complex would hold the ultimate veto. (To finally overcome the secularist deep state, Turkish Islamists built a parallel deep state in Turkey’s police forces via the Imam Gülen’s stranglehold on, of all things, the test prep industry.)

Despite the origin of the phrase among conspiracy-loving Byzantines, Lofgren warns enthusiasts that the American deep state is more mundane: The Deep State: The Fa... Lofgren, Mike Best Price: $3.15 Buy New $32.71 (as of 01:00 EST - Details)

Those who seek a grand conspiracy theory…will be disappointed. My analysis of the Deep State is not an exposé of a secret, conspiratorial cabal. I use the term to mean a hybrid association of key elements of government and part of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed as normally expressed through elections.

The American deep state is less Oliver Stone’s JFK than The Office. Lofgren remarks upon “the sheer weight of its boring ordinariness once you have planted yourself in your office chair for the ten-thousandth time.” It’s an emergent phenomenon of a quasi-empire run out of a wealthy and not exceptionally at-risk republic.

The truth is that America is so rich it can more or less afford to waste vast amounts of money on F-35s and the like. So it does.

Bridge of Spies (Plus ... Best Price: null Buy New $9.99 (as of 01:30 EST - Details) Traditionally, as in Steven Spielberg’s recent nostalgic movie Bridge of Spies about insurance lawyer James B. Donovan, who moonlit negotiating with the Soviets for the return of CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers, Washington tended to rely upon well-heeled amateurs. But the esoteric knowledge required for global adventuring leads to a perceived need for a standing army of full-time experts.

Over the decades, however, the idea of working for the government after you make your pile has reversed itself into government “service” as a prerequisite for a lucrative career in the private sector lobbying your former colleagues.

It’s not hard to notice that the deep state pays pretty well: A drive around the Washington, D.C., Beltway reveals the largest, most consistently upper-middle-class suburbs east of the San Francisco Bay. D.C.’s suburbs have been fairly wealthy at least since Pearl Harbor created the national security state. Charles Murray’s Coming Apart, for example, reports that back in 1960, Chevy Chase, Md., was the second-highest-income municipality in America, trailing only Beverly Hills.

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