One often gets the sense, while observing the circus that is America’s political process, that something else is — must be — going on behind the scenes.
This sense is frequently exploited by conspiracy buffs and paranoids who, in an attempt to avoid the difficulties of wading through the garbage, ascribe to significant events the meddling hand of an organized cabal consisting of elderly white gentlemen, who, thanks to their enormous wealth and influence, shape world events as they please.
The trouble with conspiracies of this sort is that, no matter how ridiculous, they often contain an element of truth.
There is, in fact, a government operating in the shadows, beneath the surface of the politics depicted in the evening news. There are, in fact, individuals in positions of power who care more for their own interests and ambitions than those of the public and who use their tremendous wealth to yank on the collars of our public servants.
While this shadow government — or, as former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren terms it, the Deep State — possesses tremendous power (far more than the citizenry), its incompetence often reaches astonishing heights, contrary to the clean narratives of conspiracists.
Far from a conspiracy (which the author quickly dispatches to the dust heap that is home to intelligent design and other pseudoscientific dogmas), what Lofgren invokes in his work is a mere institutional analysis. America’s shadow government is not the final result of a grand scheme, but rather “the gradual accumulation of historical circumstances.”
Lofgren defines the Deep State as “a hybrid of national security and law enforcement agencies, plus key parts of the other branches whose roles give them membership.”
“The Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Justice Department are all part of the Deep State. We also include the Department of the Treasury because of its jurisdiction over financial flows, its extensive bureaucracy devoted to enforcing international economic sanctions, and its organic symbiosis with Wall Street.”
Further, Lofgren notes that the private sector has taken over a growing slice of the Deep State: “There are now 854,000 contract personnel with top-secret clearances — a number greater than that of cleared civilian employees of the government.” Corporate America and Silicon Valley have come to play a crucial role in the workings of America’s shadow government.
The Deep State “sets the direction of the country.” For Lofgren, questions such as those asked by many disillusioned liberals — for instance, why didn’t President Obama succeed in his promise to close Guantanamo, or in his vow to withdraw troops from Iraq and Afghanistan — are rather easy to answer: The disconnect between what a president wants and what the president gets is often due to the obstructionism of the Deep State, which has objectives that frequently conflict with those of elected officials. In offering this perspective, Lofgren provides both a rebuke to the cynical interpretation of American politics and potent evidence for another, perhaps even more depressing, outlook.
Lofgren quotes NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake as saying, “Obama— like any president— is literally a captive of the people who brief him on secret intelligence.
The implications of Lofgren’s smart and often witty analysis are stark: The Deep State consists largely of unelected bureaucrats and financiers who do the bidding of the wealthy and who have vested interests in the maintenance of the politics of normal, which have, over the past several decades, been disastrous for the population and a boon for those at the top.
Wall Street is bailed out while the middle class collapses under the weight of crippling concentrations of wealth; infrastructure crumbles while trillions are squandered in overseas conflicts; millions lack health care, but we are assured by the ruling class that universal coverage is “politically impossible”; the incomes of the top 0.1% soar while the bottom 90% stagnate.
In essence, Lofgren follows a line similar to the one taken by political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page in a recent study, in which they argue that, “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”
Indeed they don’t. Impervious to elections, the Deep State carries on with business as usual. Coffers are flooded with dark money, the status quo is perpetuated, war is waged, bombs are dropped, the environment is exploited, civil liberties are undermined, and taxpayer dollars are squandered.
An understanding of the problem is the necessary prelude to any proposed solution. Until we look beyond the vague and typical complaints of “political gridlock” and “polarized ideologies” and peer into the depths of America’s shadow government, it is unreasonable to hope for change, no matter who emerges from the presidential race victorious.