The “deep state” has gotten a lot of press lately, mostly bad since it is deemed anti-democratic. Why is nobody talking about the “shallow state”? I’ll define what I mean by that in a minute. But first, let’s be clear about what the ‘deep state’ really is.
Recently the radical right weaponized the concept of the Deep State” as some nefarious pervasive conspiracy of ‘Democrat pedophiles’ trying to take away your freedom—most often defined as your God-given right to own and brandish at will an AR-15 assault rifle. I guess you could call it a fascist meme. After all, the extreme right super-self-ordained ‘patriots’ of white nationalism proclaim the evil of the ‘deep state’ and its super-rich overlords such as George Soros, as a threat to the nation they envision as the ‘Real America’ they want to ‘take back.’
Meanwhile, the actual plutocrats and their agents, like the former Fake President, manipulate them by promoting such conspiracy theories among the disenchanted, dispossessed, and deranged, the most mentally vulnerable of whom kill as many schoolchildren as they can.
A few years ago, I read about the deep-state idea and heard Mike Lofgren interviewed by Bill Moyers about his book by that title. Lofgren was concerned by the danger of an entrenched ‘shadow government’ would weaken the constitution. Well, we seem to have plenty of threats to the constitution today, which are far more dangerous than the entrenched bureaucracy.
The ‘Deep State’ is not really anything new, yet its power grows over time. Instead, it is a new term for a very old issue: bureaucratic entrenchment is another way of naming the idea of an ingrained permanent organizational structure that continues regardless of who won the most recent election. Throughout history, very large institutions have tended to be self-perpetuating and resistant to the winds of political change. Nothing really new there.
The Deep State Delusion
So, what’s all the fuss about the “Deep State”? [I capitalize it here in deference to the radical right’s perception of it as a formal entity deserving the status of a ‘proper noun,’ with very high negative status.] I’m not saying that there is no deep state. However, I am denying the extremist conspiracy theories that distort its ordinary (some good some bad) characteristics.
In 2008, highly respected political scientist Sheldon Wolin described what he called “Democracy Incorporated” in a book of that title. He was referring to the complex multi-layered institutional structure that ‘operates’ the nation’s political economy. That complex involves both public and private (corporate) entities that work in concert to satisfy everyone’s interests—that is, the interests of everyone who is part of it, which may not always include the best interests of the public. The biggest and most powerful sector of the deep state is the military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us against so many years ago.
The Shallow State vs. Democracy
One could easily make a snarky quip that the shallowest of politicians drive politics today, and that would not be far from true. That is not what I refer to by using the term “The Shallow State.” However, the deep and shallow elements of the state are intricately entangled with each other, particularly in the realm of the politics of ostensibly democratic elections and their funding.
In a democracy, politicians come and go, and that is as it should be, despite our recent Fake President’s inclination to stay on, by his autocratic attempt to foment a coup d’état by inciting an insurrection among the disenchanted extreme white nationalist crowd at the nation’s capitol building—among several other gambits—to overthrow the election he had lost.
To the extent that electoral democracy is distorted by voter suppression, gerrymandering, and by the interests of Big-Money influencing what will become or not become issues for voters, then democracy is weakened. The Shallow State consists of all those who engage in the struggle for congressional power and influence over elections and legislation.
How things Work, and Don’t Work
Most Democrats are celebrating right now, having finally gotten a deal to pass what is now called the Inflation Reduction Act, a cut down version of the much larger “Build Back Better” plan Joe Biden proposed at the onset of his presidency. At this point, I suppose, climate activists should accept anything they can get to begin staving off climate chaos. No time for purity when the biosphere is collapsing around us.
The bill includes 369 billion dollars to fund various “climate solution” proposals, with some small provisions for environmental justice. But it also includes concessions to the fossil fuel industries, despite the fact that their role in the economy is the primary cause of the climate emergency. Joe Manchin, the coal-money adorned ‘rogue Democrat’ who has been one of the two main obstacles to climate legislation, receives more political donations from oil and gas corporate interests than any other senator does.
Kristen Sinema, the other democratic rogue, refused to sign on to the Inflation Reduction Act unless the provision to close the loophole on ‘carried interest’ that allows her wealthy Wall Street donors to escape normal income tax rates on that huge income, were removed. She got her way again.
Joe Biden has a personal rule of never questioning the motives of other senators. That is why he was so successful back when he was a Senate deal-maker and why he was able to cut a deal with Manchin and Sinema a few days ago. He accommodated their corrupt demands to make a less than ideal law, one that gives away concessions to the fossil-fuel sector of the deep-and-shallow state.
Is that shallow? You bet! Is that democracy? Hell, NO! It is plutocracy, rule by the rich, enabled by the same old intellectually and politically shallow workings of special interest dominated politics in America.
Throughout the period of struggle to make a deal, I kept asking myself why no reporter had the cojones to confront Manchin or Sinema over their blatant pandering to powerful moneyed interests rather than voting in the interests of their constituents.
Well, the so-called journalists are just as shallow as the people they interview; they are playing by Joe Biden’s rules—the rules of business-as-usual in the midst of a global emergency.