Deep state

中国日报网 2018-01-09 11:01



Deep stateReader question:

Please explain “deep state”, as in “The Deep State vs. Trump”.

My comments:

Deep state refers to, in short, people who run a country (state) from behind the scenes – in contrast to the regular state, or government machine that runs the country’s affairs in the public eye, more or less.

“Deep” implies how the deep state works remains far below the surface, under thick cover and therefore unseen – because the people involved never step out into the open but remain in the shadows and, all the time, behind the scene.

“Behind the scene” reminds one of how Dowager Cixi, the Empress of the Qing Dynasty used to run the country – from behind a curtain, she directed Guangxu, her son and Emperor in name, like a director conducting an orchestra or, more appropriately, moved the young emperor around like a puppet.

In a way, the Dowager is a Chinese version of the deep state. Only in a way because whereas the Dowager and her Dynasty were dead and buried more than a hundred years ago, “deep state” is a new coinage, and Turkish in origin. This explanation, from CNN (What’s a ‘Deep State’ and why is it a new buzzword for the online right? March 11, 2017):

The phrase… was popularized in Turkey. In 2012, a CNN report described it as a “term many Turks use to refer to alleged criminal networks within security forces and the government bureaucracy.” It was first used in the New York Times in reference to Turkey in a 1997 article that defined it as “a set of obscure forces that seem to function beyond the reach of the law.”

Further explanation from Glenn Beck, an American political commentator (What Is the ‘Deep State’ and Is It Real?, November 27, 2017):

The term ‘deep state’ comes from the Turkish phrase derin devlet and generally refers to a secret government within the government. According to historian Ryan Gingeras, the concept of the deep state, or a state within a state, originated in Turkey in the 1900’s when the Ottoman Empire was overthrown by the ‘Young Turks.’

“The Young Turks”, Beck further explains, “were responsible for the Armenian, Greek, and Assyrian Christian genocides– and it was dirty work. So they had to become a clandestine force within the government that carried all of it out.”

So, to sum up, the deep state or Deep State is really the state within a state, representing a certain interest group or groups that try to influence government policy not in the open but in a conspiring way.

Hence, remember, it has derogatory connotations.

Now, back to Trump, Donald Trump the President of the United States. What the Deep State vs. Trump really refers to is, I gather, merely the Washington status quo, the establishment, the bureaucracy.

Or what Trump often calls “the swamp”, the old ways of doing things (or not doing things) that often render the government machine muddy and immovable; sometimes bring it to complete halt.

What distinguishes the Deep State from the swamp, the establishment, the bureaucracy or the status quo is, of course that the former is clandestine in nature. Therefore, the Deep State addresses to forces that operate in the dark, from behind closed doors, or as did the Dowager, from behind screens and curtains.

So what is the Deep State vs. Trump exactly?

Well, some vested interest or other that wants Trump the maverick out of the White House, thus returning Washington back to what it was, such as it was.

Still, Trump being Trump, I don’t actually mind seeing the Deep State win, and I fully understand how terrible that sounds.

Never mind, let’s read media examples of “deep state” in the American media:

1. There were echoes of that in Andrew Jackson’s victory, for the unruly mob that had descended on Washington in 1829 was composed of office-seekers who had been promised patronage jobs in the new administration. And many of them got what they wanted, for Jackson introduced the “spoils system” in which career civil servants were replaced by political appointees.

Civil-service reform, beginning with the 1883 Pendleton Act, was supposed to protect us from Jacksonian politics, creating a merit system that tied the president’s hands in patronage appointments. That was meant to give us an efficient government, free of corruption, with rule by scientific experts.

Instead, we got rule by stale ideologues. Today, when the “deep state” of federal workers is so wholly opposed to Trump, and is so partisan in its opposition, when they’ll do whatever they can to frustrate Trump’s policies, there’s an argument to be made for a return to politics and an abandonment of our faith in rule by politically neutral experts.

For examples of the deep state at work, look almost anywhere, to an Environmental Protection Agency on a mission from God, to a politicized Justice Department and most recently to an Office of Government Ethics that blinks at a speck for Trump without seeing the beam of the Clinton Cash machine. You’ll see it when a CIA director tells the president-elect what he can and cannot say.

But the most shocking example comes from a report in the Jerusalem Post that Obama officials have warned their Israeli counterparts not to share information with the Trump administration because Russian President Vladimir Putin could blackmail the new president. At a time when Trump’s people are talking to Russian officials about ending the war in Syria, that’s a betrayal of our country.

Of course, it’s naïve to expect that the deep state will be single-mindedly loyal to the United States.

Bureaucrats have their own interests. They’ll want to keep their jobs, above all, and they’ll be aligned to the kinds of policies that make their jobs more secure. The deep state loves the government that employs them and will seek to subvert an administration that threatens them.

Trump isn’t a Jacksonian. His ideas are much closer to those of Henry Clay, Jackson’s inveterate enemy. But when it comes to civil-service reform, I’d like to see a little more politics, Andrew Jackson-style. Civil-service reform gave us more, not less, corruption.

- Trump’s threat to the liberal ‘deep state’,, January 17, 2017.

2. Breitbart News, which Trump senior advisor Stephen K. Bannon once oversaw, has published several pieces in recent weeks alleging that a deep state exists in America.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump supporter throughout last year’s presidential campaign, told the Associated Press recently that a deep state definitely exists.

“There’s a permanent state of massive bureaucracies that do whatever they want and set up deliberate leaks to attack the president,” he said. “This is what the deep state does: They create a lie, spread a lie, fail to check the lie and then deny they were behind the lie.”

Fox News host Sean Hannity, a friend of Trump, opened a show recently by claiming there are “deep-state Obama holdovers embedded like barnacles in the federal bureaucracy … hell-bent on destroying President Trump.”

So, is there actually a deep state in America?

Probably not.

“What the current administration believes to be the American deep state seems to be little more than the time-honored practice of leaking information to journalists in Washington,” Cook said.

There may be more leaks now “because there are a lot of civil servants who apparently disagree with this administration,” he said. “There is no evidence of a cabal intent on overthrowing the administration.”

Trump’s recent setbacks are not an orchestrated attempt to overthrow him, but a natural part of government’s checks and balances, experts say.

In other cases, Trump himself appears to have created the evidence used to propagate the idea of a deep state.

He alleged that President Obama had tapped his phones inside Trump Tower, a claim rejected by a bipartisan Senate intelligence panel and a variety of other officials.

Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, says the pushback against Trump from within the government does not seem like a coordinated effort.

“Yes, there is some institutional resistance to the Trump presidency,” Brown said. “But applying the concept of a deep state seems to be based more on paranoia than on political reality.”

- Here’s what Trump supporters mean when they talk about the ‘deep state’,, March 19, 2017.

3. The release last Thursday of previously classified, or at least unseen, government files of all kinds relating to the assassination of John F. Kennedy is being heralded as Donald Trump’s decision—though it was simply his decision not to prevent their release, which had long been scheduled. In fact, at the last minute, Trump listened to requests from the intelligence services not to release some three hundred of the remaining three thousand files. But that decision raised more suspicions, so on Friday night the President tweeted, “I will be releasing ALL JFK files other than the names and addresses of any mentioned person who is still living.”

It’s always possible that some smoking gun of a document will reveal itself in the remaining files. Scrolling through the PDFs of the (very well presented) documents, though, mostly reveals just what one expected: rumors and scuttlebutt, with uncertain sourcing. We learn that, two days after the assassination, the F.B.I. was roiled by the possibility that Jack Ruby was identical to a Florida racketeer named Rubin. And that, two weeks before the assassination, one Robert C. Rawls overheard someone in a bar in New Orleans offering to bet a hundred dollars that President Kennedy would not be alive in three weeks’ time. But, the document reads, “He does not recall ever seeing the man before and is not certain that he would recognize him if he did. He admits being somewhat intoxicated at the time and said the man also was in an intoxicated condition.”

Anything more notable that’s turned up simply echoes what we already knew: the C.I.A. was enlisting gangsters in an effort to assassinate Castro (with what depth of knowledge on the part of the Kennedy brothers is still unclear); J. Edgar Hoover was obsessed with American Communists and with Martin Luther King, Jr.,’s purported ties to them, to the point of mania; Lee Harvey Oswald went to Mexico City in the fall of 1963, probably in order to try and get to Cuba, and while he was there had contacts with Russian intelligence in the person of embassy staffers; Lyndon Johnson never entirely bought the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Oswald had acted alone; Oswald was a good, not an inept, shot. (This last fact, known already from Oswald’s service record from his time in the Marines, is curiously sourced to a Cuban diplomat.)

There are strange historical pleasures in sorting through the records. The obsession with Castro and Cuba is, given that we now know that the United States can actually flourish quite well with “Communists right off our shores,” still startling. Certainly, the entanglements of the government and the Mafia remain shocking: one document, prepared for the House Select Committee on Assassinations, summarizes the evidence flatly, stating that Allen Dulles, the head of the C.I.A., authorized payment of a hundred and fifty thousand dollars for a plot against Castro involving Johnny Roselli and Sam Giancana. It’s scary to read the minutes of a “Special Group meeting” in November, 1960—just before Kennedy’s election—which included such Cold War worthies as Generals Charles Cabell and Ed Lansdale, and in which someone asks if “any real planning has been done for taking direct positive action against Fidel, Raul and Che Guevara.” Cabell advises that the suggestion is “beyond our capabilities” but not, apparently, beyond our consideration. (Ted Cruz’s dad, however, does not as yet seem to be mentioned in any of the documents.)

Perhaps that smoking gun may yet exist; God knows there are enough dogged assassination researchers out there to find it if it does. But, so far, the documents seem to confirm the wisest twin conclusions about the J.F.K. assassination: Oswald was guilty, and acted alone; and, at the same time, the intelligence services—the F.B.I., the C.I.A., and the rest—were up to their armpits in bad acts that they were trying to keep concealed. These conclusions, as I wrote on the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination, point to two more: that the Warren Commission is almost certainly the only plausible account of what happened on that day in Dallas, and that the underlife of the government was more sinister, or at least more complicit in guilty knowledge, than the image makers of the time, and the Kennedys, wanted to accept or to publicize.

The pretense last week was that, in releasing the files, Trump took action on behalf of the American people, in the pursuit of openness. But Trump acts in his own interest, and his pursuit of apparent openness has as its real end the undermining of public institutions and practices which depend on professionalism, independence, and trust. Trump was likely prodded to speak out about the files by Roger Stone, one of the figures from the fringes of American life whom the President has brought to the center. Stone wrote a book titled “The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ.” Last week, his profane rants got him suspended from Twitter, but he still appears to be in touch with Trump. Stone has warned of the “deep state,” the new villain of right-wing paranoia—well, an old villain, newly restored to primacy. The thinking in this case seems to be that, if Trump’s followers can be persuaded that no one in the “permanent government” should be trusted, they can perhaps be more easily persuaded not to trust the institutions of the state when, say, they pursue charges against anyone associated with his campaign. The implicit, and increasingly explicit, argument here is: Don’t listen to special counsels who worked for the F.B.I.; those are the guys that withheld all those documents about the J.F.K. assassination.

As David Frum has pointed out, what Trump’s surrogates really mean by “the deep state” is the rule of law. The idea that there are civil servants or functionaries within the government whose chief trait is loyalty to the Constitution and to the ongoing administration of the state is intolerable to the autocratic mind. So, if those other actors challenge the White House, they must be taunted, demoralized, and, if possible, dismissed.

Yet what the true history of the Kennedy assassination, including the newly released documents, reveals is not how formidable the government agencies during the Cold War era were but how vulnerable they were to exposure by what was then called “the press,” and to the countervailing power of Congress. The genuine heroism of those members of Congress who in the seventies pushed to reopen inquiries about the Kennedy assassination, in the light of the post-Watergate revelations about C.I.A. murder plots, has not been sufficiently applauded in this much more obedient day. Their work resulted, as few people now recall, in a public apology from Richard Helms, the C.I.A. chief, for the agency’s contacts with organized crime. The committee reviewed all the crucial evidence against Oswald and, somewhat to its own surprise, validated it. (A tentative, last-minute conclusion that there may have been a second, unknown gunman was based on acoustic evidence that has since been universally discredited.)

- The J.F.K. Files, Trump, and the Deep State,, October 29, 2017.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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