When the uninitiated think of the “Deep State,” they tend to imagine a group of men getting together in a room, smoking cigars and plotting world domination. But the Deep State is not one coordinated network of people controlling the government from the shadows.
Instead, it refers to individuals and groups that have the resources to shape the direction of the world to their benefit and don’t hesitate to make use of them. At times, the interests of different factions of the Deep State collide. That often happens when the direction of the world is rapidly changing, as is the case now after the election of Donald Trump.
Nobody knows this better than Peter Dale Scott, the foremost expert on the US Deep State. Below, you will find a new introduction to the paperback version of The American Deep State: Big Money, Big Oil, and the Struggle for U.S. Democracy, Updated Edition (copyright 2017), (with permission of the publisher, Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved).
Peter Dale Scott is a former Canadian diplomat, Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, co-founder of the Peace and Conflict Studies program at Berkeley, poet, and 2002 recipient of the Lannan Poetry Award.
His political books include Deep Politics and the Death of JFK (1993), The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (2007), The War Conspiracy: JFK, 9/11 and the Deep Politics of War (2008), American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan (2010), The American Deep State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy (2014) and Dallas ’63: The First Deep State Revolt Against the White House (2015). A complete bibliography can be found on his website at http://www.peterdalescott.net.
On February 3, 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported President Trump’s plans to pave the way for a broad rollback of the recent financial reforms of Wall Street. Although no surprise, the news was in ironic contrast to the rhetoric of his campaign, when he spent months denouncing both Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton for their links to Goldman Sachs, even when his campaign’s Financial Chairman was a former Goldman Sachs banker, Steve Mnuchin (now Trump’s Treasury Secretary).
Trump was hardly the first candidate to run against the banking establishment while surreptitiously taking money from big bankers. So did Hitler in 1933; so did Obama in 2008. (In Obama’s final campaign speech of 2008, he attacked “the greed and irresponsibility of Wall Street.” But it was revealed later that Wall Street bankers and financial insiders, chiefly from Goldman Sachs, had raised $42.2 million for Obama’s 2008 campaign, more than for any previous candidate in history.)
However, Trump’s connections to big money, both new (often self-made) and old (mostly institutional) were not only more blatant than usual; some were also possibly more sinister. Trump’s campaign was probably the first ever to be (as we shall see) scrutinized by the FBI for “financial connections with Russian financial figures,” and even with a Russian bank whose Washington influence was attacked years ago, after it was allegedly investigated in Russia for possible mafia connections.
Trump’s appointment of the third former Goldman executive to lead Treasury in the last four administrations, after Robert Rubin (under Clinton) and Hank Paulson (under Bush), has reinforced recent speculation about Trump’s relationship to what is increasingly referred to as the deep state. That is the topic of this essay.
But we must first see what is really meant by ‘the deep state”.
What Is Meant by the Deep State?
Since 2007, when I first referred to a “deep state” in America, the term has become a meme, and even the topic of a cautious essay in The New York Times. Recently it has been enhanced by a new meme, “the ’deep state’ versus Trump,” a theme that promoted Donald Trump as a genuine outsider, and entered the electoral campaign as early as August 2016.
Trump reinforced this notion when he expressed opposition to America’s international defense alliances and trade deals that both traditional parties had long supported, as well as by his promise to “drain the Washington swamp.” It was encouraged again post-election by Trump’s longtime political advisor Roger Stone, formerly of the Washington lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone, and Kelly, once a major feature of that swamp.
But those who saw the election as a contest between outsider Trump and a “deep state” tended to give two different meanings to this new term. On the one hand were those who saw the deep state as “a conglomerate of insiders” incorporating all those, outside and inside the traditional state, who “run the country no matter who is in the White House…and without the consent of voters.” On the other were those who, like Chris Hedges, limited the “deep state” to those perverting constitutional American politics from the margin of the Washington Beltway — “the security and surveillance apparatus, the war machine.”
But both of these simplistic definitions, suitable for campaign rhetoric, omit the commanding role played by big money — what used to be referred to as Wall Street, but now includes an increasingly powerful number of maverick non-financial billionaires like the Koch brothers. All serious studies of the deep state, including Mike Lofgren’s The Deep State and Philip Giraldi’s Deep State America as well as this book, acknowledge the importance of big money.
It is important to recognize moreover, that the current division between “red” and “blue” America is overshadowed by a corresponding division at the level of big money, one that contributed greatly to the ugliness of the 2016 campaign. In The American Deep State (p. 30), I mention, albeit very briefly, the opposition of right-wing oilmen and the John Birch Society “to the relative internationalism of Wall Street.” That opposition has become more powerful, and better financed, than ever before.
It has also evolved. As I noted in The American Deep State, (p. 14), the deep state “is not a structure but a system, as difficult to define, but also as real and powerful, as a weather system.” A vigorous deep state, like America, encompasses dynamic processes continuously generating new forces within it like the Internet — just as a weather system is not fixed but changes from day to day.
The Current Divisions in America and Its Wealth
Three days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, “Frontline” on PBS began a two-part program, “Divided States of America,” documenting how the polarization of American public opinion has contributed to both stagnation in Washington and widespread popular anger, on both the left and the right, against the traditional two-party system.
The Frontline show failed to address the major role played by money in aggravating this public division. For example, it followed many popular accounts in tracing the emergence of the tax-revolt Tea Party to the apparently spontaneous call on February 19, 2009, by CNBC reporter Rick Santelli in Chicago, for a “tea party,” in response to President Barack Obama’s expensive bailouts.
However, this event (on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, a deep state institution) was not only staged, it had been prepared for in advance. A domain name, chicagoteaparty.org, had been registered for it in 2008, before Obama had even been elected. Jane Mayer has conclusively demonstrated the role in the funding groups behind the Tea Party played by the brothers Charles and David Koch, who in 2014 were two of the ten richest people on earth, worth a combined $32 billion as owners of the largest private oil company in America. (Today their wealth is estimated at $84 billion.)
More important, as Mayer pointed out,
the Tea Party was not “a new strain” in American politics. The scale was unusual, but history had shown that similar reactionary forces had attacked virtually every Democratic president since Franklin Roosevelt. Earlier business-funded right-wing movements, from the Liberty League [of the 1930s] to the John Birch Society to [Richard Mellon] Scaife’s [anti-Clinton] Arkansas Project, all had cast Democratic presidents as traitors, usurpers, and threats to the Constitution. The undeniable element of racial resentment that tinged many Tea Party rallies was also an old and disgracefully enduring story in American politics.
The Kochs’ lavish funding of the Tea Party, along with anti-tax candidates and climate-change deniers, was only one more phase in what I described in 1996 as
an enduring struggle between “America Firsters” and “New World Order” globalists, pitting, through nearly all of this [20th] century, the industry-oriented (e.g. the National Association of Manufacturers) against the financial-oriented (e.g. the Council on Foreign Relations), two different sources of wealth.
A decade later Trump has revived the slogan of “America First!”, and vowed to reconsider both NATO and multilateral trade. Both factions are still there today; but, as we shall see, both now have international connections.