The 'Deep State': American Boogeyman Or Superman?

While the "deep state" is largely undefined, it usually refers to an intra-government conspiracy.
Posted at 8:29 PM, Feb 27, 2018

Most Americans hadn't heard the term "deep state" before Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Now it pops up regularly in stories about routine government business. Just recently, the president accused his own Justice Department of being part of a "deep state."

The tricky thing is, the deep state is largely undefined. This political Rorschach test is highly subjective, living in the eye of the beholder. The term typically refers to an intra-government conspiracy.

Huffpost put it this way: Deep State "implies a unified force deeply embedded in the republic that has its own agenda and the means to undermine the decisions of elected presidents and members of Congress. Its power derives from control of the mechanisms of power and being invisible."

Synonym? Shadow government.

Before the 2016 campaign, billmoyers.com noted the term generally was used in reference to networks of entrenched government officials in various foreign countries — for example, Pakistan. The country's intelligence agency and military often operate independently of the country's elected leaders. Coups have been the result.

Back in the U.S., powerful federal bureaucrats certainly try to influence presidents from time to time, including leaks to the press, writes Politico. But critics of the conspiracy point out their goals are piecemeal, not organized across the vast bureaucracy.

If by "deep state" you mean the civil servants who keep the government on track as administrations come and go, then yes, it exists.

It's debatable to say the least as to whether the deep state is the threat that right-wing blogger Mike Cernovich described. He said it would turn murderous: "Trump will be killed. ... They're going to kill us, they're going to kill him, they're going to kill everybody."

Former Trump strategist Steve Bannon was one of the loudest proponents of the conspiracy theory. He referred to it as the "administrative state" and made its destruction a priority. Several leaders of the hard-right have been in lockstep, including Congressman Steve King and Trump's friend Newt Gingrich.

Deep state concerns are not mainstream, but some citizens are starting to buy in.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out last year showed that 28 percent of respondents said the deep state exists and that it's a major problem. It was defined as "military, intelligence and government officials who try to secretly manipulate government policy."

Maybe it comes down to this: One person's dedicated career federal worker is another's furtive power usurper.