In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the paranoiac hard right adopted as part of their larger conspiracist worldview the notion of a “deep state” that was gunning for Donald Trump. Crackpots like Alex Jones claimed a shadowy cabal of dubious government actors were operating in the background, trying to take out the Donald, in a production mirroring recent Color Revolutions seen in Eastern Europe.
August Bebel rather infamously called antisemitism “the socialism of fools,” a sentiment that holds true in spades for the goobers that reduce the systemic analysis of phenomena down to a clique of individuals whose exorcism from the body politic would make America great again.
Well, it actually is a little more complicated than that…
We do have actual reports about individual actors who have made conscious decisions from within the deep recesses of the state in order to stymie policy efforts. Indeed, around the time that InfoWars was honking like a gaggle of geese, Ken Silverstein called me up and said out loud “This is a coup!”
Regarding the Obama administration, there were two noteworthy quasi-exposés.
The first, published in the final months of 44th presidential term, came from the New York Times Magazine by way of a profile of Ben Rhodes, who angered a few powerful folks over these passages:
He referred to the American foreign-policy establishment as the Blob. According to Rhodes, the Blob includes Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East… [Obama] openly shares Rhodes’s contempt for the groupthink of the American foreign-policy establishment and its hangers-on in the press. Yet one problem with the new script that Obama and Rhodes have written is that the Blob may have finally caught on.
Next, a September 2018 New Republic piece by David Dayen about the early days of Timothy Geithner’s tenure as Treasury Secretary certainly caused eyebrows to levitate:
According to credible accounts, Geithner slow-walked a direct presidential order to prepare the breakup of Citigroup, instead undertaking other measures to nurse the insolvent bank back to health. This resistance to accountability for those who perpetrated the crisis, consistent with Geithner’s demonstrated worldview, had catastrophic effects—including the Trump presidency itself… Larry Summers, then the National Economic Council director, was intrigued by the concept of nationalizing the sickest commercial banks, similar to what Sweden had done a decade earlier. Summers had discussed the mechanics of it with FDIC chairwoman Sheila Bair… Obama had already publicly rejected nationalization in an interview with ABC News, but his economic team had differing viewpoints, which they hashed out in the March 2009 meeting. They decided that the remaining bailout funds would be used to support a “resolution” of Citi. The worst assets would be put into a “bad bank,” with shareholders wiped out and the rest of the firm downsized and restructured. Obama…approved the order that night and tasked the Treasury Department with nailing down the details. Geithner simply didn’t follow the request, failing to produce any proposal for the unwinding of Citi… It was a classic Washington move: When your boss asks for something you don’t like, just ignore it and hope that the request isn’t necessary when the boss follows up.
Thus we have two verifiable accounts about how domestic and foreign policy have been prevented from significant alteration by powerful forces within the Washington establishment. Robert Gates and Hillary Clinton are/were representatives of the aggressive elements in the State and Defense Departments who urged Obama into the catastrophic Libya debacle. Geithner is a disciple of neoliberal economic gurus Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, two quacks who, along with the certifiably-delusional Alan Greenspan, encouraged Bill Clinton’s pillage of the American welfare state in the 1990s. These are just a few of literally thousands (if not millions) of career civil servants, federal workers, policy wonks, and other apparatchiks that are wed to a deeply-regressive set of doctrines. In every municipal, state, and federal office across the country, people that subscribe to these dogmas have been installed with no resistance by countervailing progressive forces.
There’s a number of things that could happen were Bernie to be elected president. Taking on these forces are going to be a serious challenge that will need to go outside the realm of electoral politics in order to be successful.