A running theme in this blog is just how illusory the traditional conservative vs. liberal, red vs. blue, Republican vs. Democrat divide in this country really is. It’s like they intentionally divide us over trifles.
That’s not to say there is literally no such thing as conservative or liberal, of course. But that is far less important than another scale in politics: elite, or globalist, vs. proletariat, or populist. It’s the interests of the Davos set, the 0.1%, the Beltway establishment, vs. the interests of the rest of us. And you can bet that these interests are no less diametrically opposed than those of pro-lifers vs. pro-choicers.
It is heartening to see Americans slowly dawn on them that our real fight was never with our drunk conservative uncle, or our whippersnapper liberal nephew, at the Thanksgiving table. Both parties are getting equally screwed by the establishment. Thus, we get articles like this at Salon where no less an orthodox liberal than Elias Isquith, who has never met a social-justice cause he didn’t like, heaps praise on conservative Republican Mike Lofgren’s description of one of the tools they use to oppress us: the “deep state.”
Under traditional rules, liberals like me and Isquith are supposed to always be for big government, without exception. But this blind faith has slowly been eroded by recent scandals. Snowden and the NSA. Dick Cheney’s official torture program. On that note, Dick Cheney’s wars. And on a local level: racist cops who can’t ever seem to be prosecuted for murder. Hell, they often aren’t even fired, as Eric Garner’s killer is still employed by the NYPD.
The problem: progressivism depends on good governance as a bulwark against the power of the aristocracy. And that word “good” there is the most important part of that sentence. Bad government just becomes another tool of oppression.
As Lofgren explains, the key to the deep state’s power is also what makes it so antithetical to the interests of the people: its unaccountability, its secrecy. The biggest powers of the military-industrial complex aren’t its guns or tanks or drones. Their biggest powers are their anonymity and their unresponsiveness. Think about one of those “released” government documents so heavily redacted that it’s nothing but lines of black marker: that’s what we mean by the deep state.
Government bureaucrats at all levels of government basically cannot be fired. They do not have to ever face judgment for doing a bad, or indifferent job. Sure, on paper, they are supposed to face oversight from Congress, but in reality? Congresspeople come and go with every election. The average tenure of a representative is 9.1 years; senator, 10.2 years. For federal non-postal bureaucrats? 13.9 years. And unlike their supposed overseers on Capitol Hill, they are unionized and are almost impossible to be fired. They do not face elections every two years.
These bureaucrats — again, using the government’s own statistics — earn an average base salary of almost $80k. This does not include their exceedingly generous health and vacation benefits and, above all, their defined-benefit pensions that allow them to draw from the taxpayer till death. How does that compare to your private-sector company?
But even more malign than these ground troops, are the elites who are truly the bosses of the deep state, as opposed to those obstreperous elected congressmen. The heads of the departments, the CIA, the US Attorney’s offices, the EPA, and all the rest of the alphabet soup hold sway that not even J. Edgar Hoover would have dreamed of. And this class of individual is one and the same with the heads of the private sector, including Wall Street and Silicon Valley, as well as of academia. Consider David Petraeus: after a sex scandal made it too inconvenient for him to remain head of the CIA, a high-paying boutique bank position magically opened up for him. Because, obviously, running counterinsurgencies and drone strikes made him an obvious choice for the world of finance.
The one thing these all have in common — the federal bureaucracy, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, elite media — is the vast supply of money always running through each. And that is the one thing our elites care about. Want to find a 0.1%’er? It’s no different than The Wire: follow the money. And it’s why they really have no major preference between the Clintons and the Bushes. Both dynasties are equally committed to the globalist, pro-0.1%, anti-proletariat worldview.
And the blurring of public vs. private does extend to the rank-and-file as well, according to Lofgren:
“All these guys simply go through the revolving door to the point where you can hardly distinguish [government employees from private sector workers]. A good percentage of the people sitting at their desks right now in the Pentagon are private sector contractors. They are literally in the Pentagon, in the NSA building, in all these organizations.”
As he further details, they don’t all share the same left-vs-right politics. (Or libertarian vs authoritarian; that’s yet another scale in American politics I won’t touch on here.) I’m sure the voting pattern of the average EPA bureaucrat is markedly different than that of the average FBI agent. But remember: left-vs-right does not matter very much anymore. On the far more important globalist-vs-populist scale, members of the deep state are more in lockstep than in Maoist China:
“I think it’s an ideology that dare not speak its name. They claim it is not an ideology, that it is simply their technocratic expertise giving you the benefit of their knowledge. However, their knowledge is always based on a neoconservative view of foreign policy, [and] in domestic policy, it enforces neoliberalism.”
Ah yes, and we return to our old friend “neoliberalism.” Or what I call “Boomerism.” These are both imperfect words that are also synonyms for “globalism.” That uniting ideology of the masters of our universities, our bureaucracy, our banks, our tech firms, our media conglomerates. They are words that try to sum up the worldview of the Mouth of Sauron for these people: Tom Friedman.
And they are why we have the insurgencies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Both draw from a discontent that is agnostic of red-vs-blue. Trump’s detractors note his multiple heresies from GOP orthodoxy, while forgetting that his base could not care less. It is no accident that a lot of Trump’s backers are registered Dems; similarly, Sanders is right when he states he can poach some of Trump’s base. Hell, these two could serve in the same administration, despite how opposed their personalities and their (other) politics are, despite their disagreements on specifics. Voters for both sense the deep rot in our system, of these Rubins and Petrauses and Dimons and Zuckerbergs and Ezra Kleins who all imagine themselves as Übermenschen to your Untermenschen, as born masters and superiors to you of the Great Unwashed. Trump and Sanders voters know how these people are forever working to impoverish, disenfranchise, and weaken the average middle- and working-class person.
I love this awakening of the plebians. But we must be careful. Revolutions have a tendency to go a tad too far. I hope we don’t trade Louis XVI for Robespierre (or Napoleon), or the Czars for Stalin (or Putin!).
“The deep state has created so many contradictions in this country. You have this enormous disparity of rich and poor; and you have this perpetual war, even though we’re braying the bell of freedom. We have a surveillance state, and we talk about freedom. We have internal contradictions. Who knows what this will fly into? It may collapse like the Soviet Union; or it might go into fascism with a populist camouflage — like Trump is selling us.”