I've heard whispers of a 'deep state' run by the Clintons or Obama or various liberals/democrats and I never really gave it much thought. It sounds kind of crazy - that said, I have to admit, I don't know much about what it allegedly is. So, I'm asking here:

  1. What is "Deep State", according to Wikipedia:

    In the United States, the term "deep state" describes a form of alleged cabal that coordinates efforts by government employees and others to influence state policy without regard for democratically elected leadership. The use of the term as applied to the United States has been dismissed by numerous journalists and academics as a conspiracy theory. The term has also been used to refer to alleged cabals in countries such as Turkey and post-Soviet Russia. In the United States, the term has been used in numerous published titles written by, for example, Marc Ambinder, David W. Brown, Peter Dale Scott, Mike Lofgren, and Michael Wolff.

    The term gained popularity in some circles during the 2016 U.S. presidential election in opposition to establishment Republican and Democratic candidates, and has also been used in 2017 and 2018 during the Trump administration by commentators who argue that deep states are aiming to delegitimize the Trump presidency.

    That gives me some sense of what it is, but how does it allegedly operate? It would seem that there would be a vast number of people involved which would necessarily lead to trails of evidence - especially if it's so sloppily maintained that it's all over various branches of the media.

  2. What evidence is there for Deep State? From what I can tell the answer is, not much. It would seem that for this to be real there would need to be hundreds of people involved. Not one of them has spilled the beans? Not one of them has provided substantial evidence?

Do I have this correct or am I off somewhere (if so, where?)?

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    That's not telling me much - I don't envision that the people who support this notion are talking about Obama and covert Democrats trading emails and gossiping around the water cooler. Selling your stories, taking speaking engagements, etc are all above level activities - not 'deep' or covert. – Phlegon_of_Tralles Jan 24 '18 at 21:42
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    In recent context, it means nothing other than what Trump thinks it means, which is anyone's guess. It appears to mainly exist as a means of deflecting attention away from the Russia investigations. – user1530 Jan 24 '18 at 23:31
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    As I have heard the term used lately, it refers to secret forces in the government, usually Obama appointees, who are conspiratorially coordinating to either take out Trump or halt his progress. It generally refers to the FBI and maybe the CIA. To the people who believe in it, the "Nunes Memo" that you asked about is part of exposing it. I would like to see some actual evidence for its existence, but I suspect it is just one of many conspiracy theories. – rougon Jan 24 '18 at 23:55
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    @Michael_B Except when the White House are the ones leaking. – rougon Jan 25 '18 at 3:00
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    @Michael_B My point being that a lot of leaks come from unknown sources, so it's hard to pin them as "deep state." But, more important, who has claimed that the leaks are the "deep state"? – rougon Jan 25 '18 at 3:09

I think it's worth putting this in the context of real deep state examples. This typically manifests as military or intelligence agencies which do not obey civilian leadership. Brythan's answer seems problematic because it confuses institutional independence with a deep state.

In cases like the militaries of Turkey, Egypt, Pakistan, Russia's KGB, or it has even been alleged the UK's City of London, organisations exist which ignore elected governments or actively control them. This is a deep state. America does not have an equivalent.

In Turkey, historically the military has seen itself as the guardian of the republic. If the Turkish government becomes too religious or unstable, the military has purged them. Only recently have the tables turned with the failed 2016 coup, and subsequently the civilian government purging the military, police, judiciary, etc, of dissent.

Egypt's military doesn't just try to manage the democratic system, they have been described as a "Mamluk State", appointing a general to become president (or perhaps Pharaoh). The Egyptian military is a huge institution, and actually owns a considerable amount of economic assets in order to guarantee their own financial independence.

The closest the US has to a deep state would be the CIA, given opaque budgets and limited civilian oversight. But even that is doubtful. A 2016 book "Debriefing the President" by former CIA officer John Nixon makes scathing criticism of the CIA. He alleges that over the last few decades the organisation has abandoned its early emphasis, that officers should "dare to be wrong", to challenge ideas. Instead it has developed a slavish relationship with the White House, providing shallow nodding analysis in order to protect its pride and budget.

If this assessment is correct, and the least transparent US government agency given the most operational freedom is nothing but a grinning yes man... then the notion of an American deep state is laughable.

The suggestion that the Democratic party is involved in some sort of deep state is absurd. In American political discourse there is an unfortunate tendency to make bizarre unsubstantiated claims. For example, that Obama was going to put his political opponents in concentration camps.

  • Very argumented answer. Just "America does not have an equivalent". Really, hoard of arguments listed. Especiially about those undemocratic regimes, which have a deep state. And shining-city-on-the-hill doesn't have a deep state, just because it doesn't.) Maybe America doesn't have a deep state just because of wonderful air of fredom? – user2501323 Jun 3 at 8:34

The general claim that I have seen is not that there is an organization that calls itself the deep state but that there are a bunch of people that have a particular set of views that dominate the bureaucracies. They do not have leaders because they aren't formally organized. However, they have certain things on which there is general agreement.

  1. Bureaucracies are important and perform a useful function. Each bureaucracy once created is required to continue. Any evidence that the bureaucracy is in fact harmful or a failure must be untrue.

  2. The solution related to the purpose of that particular bureaucracy is superior to that of other bureaucracies.

    For example, the State department favors diplomatic solutions tailored to the foreign power. This is because that is what they know. They do not favor military solutions.

  3. Administrations are temporary. There is no need to change to adjust to the current administration. They'll be gone in four to eight years. Just keep doing things the way that you have been, and they'll go away.

  4. Politicians don't know what they're doing, so just ignore them. After all, the bureaucrats are the ones that have been doing the job and understand what's wrong.

The result of this is to create inertia. Things continue to be done the way that they have been done. It's hard to change how things are done.

The only reason why this is partisan is that most of the actual bureaucrats are registered Democrats. This tends to leave Democratic politicians, like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, supportive of the bureaucratic view, or at least not totally dismissive of it. Meanwhile, Republicans face no such pressure to favor the bureaucratic view, except in areas like law enforcement and the military where there are more Republicans.

The "deep state" causes problems for Democrats as well. For example, Barack Obama came into office as against foreign interventions, particularly the Iraq war. However,

  1. He intervened diplomatically in Egypt to encourage Hosni Mubarak to leave.

  2. He intervened militarily in Libya to block actions by Muammar Gaddafi, which led to Gaddafi's death.

In Egypt, his intervention led to a short-lived democratic regime which the international community opposed. Eventually it was replaced by a military coup to sighs of relief around the world. As interventions go, this was a pretty clear failure.

In Libya, no one has replaced Gaddafi. The country is still in a civil war. While Clinton says she remains hopeful, most observers view this as a failure as well, at least so far.

For a Republican example, in 1991, George H. W. Bush stopped military operations before Saddam Hussein was ousted. He overruled his advisors to do this. But in 2003, George W. Bush allowed himself to be convinced to "finish the job" and remove Hussein. It was this war that Obama listed as the example of bad interventions in his 2008 election and this contributed to his defeat of Hillary Clinton in the primary. Yet he was making the same mistakes. And of course he was back in Iraq before he left office.

Calling the "deep state" a cabal is pushing it into the realm of conspiracy theory. However, that ignores the actual existence of a bureaucracy that fundamentally disagrees with many of the things that someone like Donald Trump might propose. And it ignores the way that the bureaucracy, without any outside organization, can resist administrative priorities. The "deep state" as cabal is thus a way to belittle the concept and mislead people about what is actually being discussed.

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    So is the idea that if it's not elected it's "deep state"? And do you have sources for some of those claims (most bureaucrats are democrats)? – rougon Jan 25 '18 at 2:13
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    I agree with rougon that this needs backed up. Until then, -1. – indigochild Jan 25 '18 at 3:19
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    The problem is that none of this is what most people mean when they talk about the “Deep State.” The proponents of this theory don’t just believe that there are bureaucrats who don’t like Donald Trump and sometimes ignore him, they believe that these bureaucrats are working together (perhaps with Obama) to systematically oppose Trump, and perhaps even spy on him or seek to get rid of him. – Obie 2.0 Jan 25 '18 at 5:38
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    The definitions of deep state I have heard differ significantly from this (I would also like some sources on that), but if we accept your definition (which basically seems to be "deep state" = "bureaucracy"), I'm not sure how your examples fit. How are Obamas foreign policy actions related to the deep state? That jump of logic is a bit unclear to me and could use some explanation (I guess he acted according to advice from those never-changing bureaucrats?). – tim Jan 25 '18 at 8:47
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    These claims could use some sourcing; this sounds very much like the answerer's impression of what people think the Deep State is rather than an analytical response. Plus the paragraphs about Egypt, Libya, and Iraq seem unrelated. – jeffronicus Jan 25 '18 at 19:28

Regarding question #2, on the nature of available evidence indicating the presence of powerful shadowy cabals, and how they might best maintain their mysteries.

Preventing testimony against traditional criminal organizations uses a direct approach -- coercion, removal, or defamation of witnesses and evidence. Presumably any self-respecting deep state should at least do that much.

If it's not possible to keep a secret out of the public eye, (i.e. somebody already spilled some of the beans), it may be possible to perplex the public mind. With the "firehose of falsehood" propaganda method -- the propagandist basically spills bushels of variously colored beans atop those spilled, then makes an even bigger mess pretending to clean them up -- a torrent of poorly argued inconsistent information and misinformation, (and meta-info and meta-disinfo, i.e. punditry wrestling itself), sufficient to exhaust and confuse the public's faculties and patience, until raising the topic is viewed as an annoyance.

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    Caveat: I'm favoring the theory that states are shallower than supposed, so that 1) petty conspiracies seem like great ones, 2) oblivious collective clumsiness generates noticeably unfortunate emergent phenomena we incorrectly impute to intention. – agc Jan 26 '18 at 18:12

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