Saturday, February 25, 2017

Some thoughts on the "Deep State"

I am enshrining this excellent post here as a backup copy for future reference. Experience has taught me how quickly content can vanish from the web. Ansel Sigmar is the screen name for an American living in Thailand. 

Considered without partisan hysteria, the existence of a "Deep State" is natural to any enterprise as complicated as a modern superpower. At present, the United States is the largest and most powerful state in the world, and likely contains the most advanced Deep State on the planet. I've watched US politics evolve for nearly sixty years. Claiming only that qualification, I'd like to make some personal observations about this hot "new" concept making its way through both left and right-wing media, but with the caveat that neither I nor anyone else knows enough to claim a comprehensive understanding. We're all tempted by the charms of reductionism, which accounts for our never-ending fascination with conspiracy theories, but it's clear to me that, in spite of my fondness for a good story, simplification isn't an appropriate way to describe complexity.

The idea that some sort of continuing institutional management exists beyond the political arena is hardly new, and those now loudly decrying the Deep State aren't exactly original thinkers, but it's easy to understand their confusion. The only way to begin understand the apparent contradictions that govern American life is to accept that there is no such thing as an omniscient and omnipotent Other that runs things behind the scenes. We also must understand that there is no secret set of agreements among the people and institutions that are the alleged Deep State. There are always a variety of goals and ambitions among the participants in any game with stakes this high, but the goal of farsighted players has always been stability above all else. Breaking the state means breaking everything, and the cost to a society is beyond calculation. Only vultures profit from mass destruction, as we saw in the case of post-Soviet Russia.

The sometimes chaotic arena of electoral politics has the highest visibility in public discourse, but it's not the only place political decisions are made, and not without reason. As I first understood the Deep State, it was simply a collective noun referring to the entrenched bureaucracy that gave long-term continuity to government. As partisan parties won and lost control through elections, they could temporarily dominate the public conversation about policy, but could not interrupt the necessary functions that make it possible to have a coherent state delivering services and executing laws, without regard
to the prevailing political ideology.

Steve Bannon, our revolutionary du jour, understands this very well, and is leading a blitzkrieg insurgency whose first targets are fundamental to what he calls the "administrative government." As long as there are independent institutions carrying forward the long term objectives of the state, there can be no revolution that will effect structural change in the US. Unfortunately, Mr. Bannon and company have arrived on the scene at the moment in history when political parties are in tatters, when there is no coherent debate emerging from anywhere on the political spectrum, and when disinformation has become as easily transmitted as fact. He has a great thirst for deconstruction, a fondness for violent conflict, and a very great secret. He's never told us exactly what he wants beyond the "deconstruction of the administrative state."

In this environment, some interest group is going to take charge. That's inevitable. Whether it's the so-called Deep State or the nihilist oligarchs running the show around Bannon, we're going to be living with the result for a long time to come. When you next hear someone fretting over the Deep State posing a threat to an elected president, consider the option. There's only one, and it's exactly what the US has been carefully structured to avoid for more than 200 years. As far too many citizens appear to have forgotten the long-term commitments made from the Declaration of Independence to the present, the most powerful memory we can rely upon to preserve the rule of law, and to ensure the orderly dispatch of governmental duties, is institutional. I might not have said this forty years ago, but I've decided it's much better to opt for institutional stability than to jump off the cliff we're being led toward.

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