Word games: The right discovers the "deep state"

The neocons used to be the Illuminati, but then, so did the new favorite conservative bugbear: the Deep State.

On Wednesday, Sean Hannity spent a portion of his radio program raving about the “Deep State” and the “shadow government” that purportedly is maneuvering against President Trump. Hannity went so far as to suggest that the hacking and phishing shenanigans conducted against the DNC weren’t the work of foreign hackers at all but rather might have been (conspiracy theorists love the “Is it possible?” formulation) perpetrated by American intelligence agencies. No, that does not make sense as a conspiracy theory (undermine Hillary Rodham Clinton and help elect Donald Trump so that you can . . . covertly oppose him?), but the Right’s talking heads stopped making sense a long time ago. On Thursday, Rush Limbaugh insisted that the New York Times account of the investigation into possible links between Trump associates and the Russians was based on “Deep State sources.” In case it is not clear enough, Limbaugh published an article headlined: “Barack Obama and His Deep State Operatives Are Attempting to Sabotage the Duly Elected President of the United States.” Wreckers and saboteurs! If only there were some kulaks around to liquidate as a class!

“Deep State” is a term that has been around for a while, often being used to describe extralegal political action in authoritarian regimes, especially in Turkey. The “Deep State” became a favorite conspiracy villain of the American Left, who described it as a nexus between the military, militarized law-enforcement agencies, the intelligence community, Wall Street (of course), and a few powerful political and business figures. An invisible enemy is very handy for the Left: It could not possibly be socialism that has reduced Venezuela to its current condition — it must be Goldman Sachs colluding with the CIA. The “Deep State” is sometimes conflated with what the political theorist (and, later in life, outright kook) Sam Francis called the “permanent government,” the bureaucrats and apparatchiks and such who remain in power irrespective of the outcome of any given election. They were a lot less scary back when they were “the civil service.”