November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo


 Library of Congress Collection

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“Deep State”

by J. Palombo

There are a number of problems facing the country today and the “deep state” topic underscores this point. A special thanks to Henry Giroux for his contributing piece, the important considerations he raises speak for themselves. Enjoy the provocative reads and as always your comments and questions are most welcome.


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The term “deep state” refers to a political agenda that operates by means of a deep-seated allegiance to nationalism, corporatism and/or state interests. A simple Wikipedia search will show that the term has its history tied to the Turkish military that controlled political leadership there in the last century.  One might notice its current use particularly in the context of the Egyptian military’s powerful control of the political and economic processes in that country. The reach of this control extends into actual business interests/investment in water, gas, tourism and other economic enterprises, investments that translate into political influence on a variety of levels. And, given the covert and overt measures that are used to maintain this power, it appears impossible to escape the policy objectives tied to the military interests, no matter who gets elected or what political ideas are presented to the people.

Of course this all points to a perilous situation, which is evident in what we see happening in Egypt today. This “deep state” of affairs brings to mind our own concerns regarding what President Eisenhower first termed as the military industrial complex – where the development and maintenance of a large military as well as war itself happens with a focus on profit rather than on security interests.  Although clearly a danger in terms of both political and economic agendas, there is a difference in the Egyptian circumstance. This is primarily so as the military there is more in a position to wield power over the political processes via its direct economic interests/investments.  Nonetheless, the comparison is certainly a point to reference.

Having made the “deep state” concept clear, I would like to present its application in another way, one not often considered but one which could be argued is as damaging as the one referenced above. To begin, let me note that over the past quarter century I’ve been involved with attempting to bring to the attention of the American public the fact that we have not adequately come to grips with the nature of our capitalist identity. This effort, rising out of my own personal and professional experiences with our “American experiment,” has involved writing books and articles, holding discussions with both public and private individuals and groups, integrating related material in classroom lectures, developing a website and reaching out to hundreds of people and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum involved with trying to make America “a better society.” Now one might think that this effort wouldn’t result in any grand struggle, after all it’s obvious that almost all we do and consider, in both public and private venues and across all of our institutions, is tied to market-related, capitalist variables. But, even though I’ve gotten a fair share of positive encouragement (no one has dismissed the importance of what’s being referenced) it has been/continues to be a grand struggle indeed.

This has happened in large part due to our understanding that the country most predominantly represents a democracy, which to some extent is true. But we are also very much linked to the elements of capitalism – in fact we are the most advanced capitalist system in the world. Yet, outside the language of it being a free market, supply and demand system, we tend not to discuss capitalism in its fullest content (including its critical analyses) nor with any national consistency, even given its significance. Therefore, even though the influence of capitalism is evident on every level of our society (consider work, the media, the law, politics and daily personal decisions just to name a few) we are left in situation where there is ignorance and confusion over what this might actually mean. And of course this has a significant effect on our ability to understand and address both national and international concerns.  (And it also hampers our ability to comprehend what other countries might be doing.)

In essence then there is a gap in our understanding relative to measuring our country in terms of the practicalities of capitalism as opposed to the ideals of democracy, a gap which makes the work focused on making America a better nation more difficult than it already is. Take for example the work designed to address social issues like crime, employment, education, and poverty. In an “unaware atmosphere,” it makes it very difficult to first offer analyses of the problems and then to discuss any meaningful ways to rectify those problems. In effect, we seem to be existing one step above where the rubber actually meets the road, talking and working around concerns that should be clearly on the public table of understanding. And at the same time, we remain in a state where we are virtually controlled by economic elements without having the requisite information to understand the nature of this control. So it’s this combination of “the gap” and the simultaneous unwillingness to attempt to close it that gives rise to our version of “deep state.” (A fair comparison to trying to understand the country without talking about capitalism is trying to understand baseball without talking about the pitcher and the catcher. Leaving either mechanism unattended is simply nonsensical!)

It might occur at this point to ask, how did this circumstance develop?  In other words, how is it that a country so tied to the advent of modern capitalism could have a public so shrouded in mystery as to what this actually means, enough so that the “deep state” analogy could make sense? Well, there are several explanations and they are intricately tied to why there is such a struggle to bring the definitions of capitalism to the public table. It might be that, as Karl Marx suggested, a capitalist system grows so exploitive of the general public that those with the power will do anything, including deceiving others and manipulating the truth, to avoid “letting on” what is happening. For the most part this would help explain the “elitist” control of the wealth/power in our country as well the continuing vagaries of political and economic discussion that surround this control. (This raises the possibility that talking about democratic ideals is a ruse to cover the practicalities of capitalism.) Yet as easy as this “conspiracy” is to internalize, it seems difficult to accept, particularly as the sole explanation for our current situation.

In other words, taking into consideration our fortunate history, and given the substantial accomplishments as individuals and as a country in that context, it is fair to propose that we, as a public, simply came to believe too strongly in our democratic and economic freedom. In this light our spirit, energy and our prosperity became so ignited and fueled by our democratic and free market ideals that, even amidst our struggles (issues regarding equality via the civil war, the labor union struggles and the civil rights movement come immediately to mind), there appeared little room for seriously integrating alternative thought, especially thought that could be critical of what we so steadfastly believed. (It is important to note here that in terms of public awareness, a substantial part of our capitalist identity developed consistent with an animosity toward and outright fear of communism, particularly in the post World War II years.  And this, especially coupled with our post-war successes, proved to create an environment where developing a coherent and legitimate dialogue about capitalism seemed virtually impossible. On this point keep in mind that the concepts of socialism and communism grow out of Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism. This means that it is an analysis that contributes to meaningful discussion about capitalism as well as socialism and communism. Yet a good number of people who don’t know any better tend to characterize those who discuss this significant analysis in terms of unpatriotic Marxists who want to turn American into a socialist or communist state. This is a ridiculous overstatement to say the least. Nonetheless, it is a notion that remains strong enough to have supported the fear that continues to stymie legitimate public discourse.)

So, in this light it can be argued that we, the public, cannot escape assuming a portion of the responsibility for our “deep state” state of affairs. This is especially so as we seem to be continuing on this course of ignoring what we see happening around us. Even with articulating things like: “the acknowledgement of ignorance paves the road toward wisdom” and espousing efforts that encourage “creative and outside-the-box” thinking, and emphasizing across the political and academic spectrum that we need to have more civically aware/responsible citizens, we remain stuck in terms of coming to grips with our own reality.

It hard to believe that we can/will stay in this “the world is flat” mindset much longer – the obviousness of the current economic crises as well as the poor market controls speak for themselves. Also, the continually developing growth models, like that of China, are pushing serious and long-term looks into the nature of capitalism. Said another way we, as a public, can hardly avoid taking on the task of examining all aspects of capitalism, especially given the issues and concerns we/the world must all face. (The recently released book by Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power – China’s Long March to the 21st Century, is a compelling review of what China has and is doing in terms of developing its current growth model. Suffice it to say, we could learn from/ borrow some important considerations from what is presented by the authors.)

Obviously the task ahead of us won’t be easy, especially in the sense of owning up to our own shortcomings. Yet there is a way to make the effort a bit easier to undertake. In essence, we can begin our work by recognizing ourselves as a young country, one whose history has been touched with great fortune, one that has allowed us to prosper to almost unparalleled levels of success. And like we would encourage any young person who has been so fortunate, we must be willing to assume more of the responsibility that should come with that good fortune. In other words, it’s time for us to grow up, to admire our accomplishments while also acknowledging the requisite responsibilities we must embrace as we move on. And in this context, whether Republican or Democrat (or whatever), this will demand that we take a hard look at our connection to capitalism, both on its own and its relatedness to democracy. There is simply no other way around this – it’s as clear as reminding ourselves that to make things work better, we must first understand how things work.

In a previous column, I noted several organizations that are currently at work asking the question, “What will it take for our democracy to work?” Implied in this question is the idea that we have to examine the elements that might be in the way of this happening. Of course, what we find out may not alter our course (hopefully it will) but we will at least be able to lay claim to the notion that we can make informed decisions regarding the pressing problems we face. In this light, I am hoping to continue to work with organizations like the National Issues Forum and the Kettering Foundation to integrate the concerns noted above with their mission of making our country better civically skilled through education and civic dialogue. As always, I promise to keep you posted as to what develops whatever the outcome. And on this point I hope that you too will do your best to be involved with how we might come to better understand our collective selves. For instance, simply asking those in the political or economic arenas or those in academia about these concerns would certainly help contribute to the motion we need to generate. Whatever course of action you take, consider that it may be up to the next generations to come up with better systems/models than those currently in use – but it is no doubt our responsibility to help dig us out of the hole we have, unwittingly or otherwise, helped create.



About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.



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Jonathan Kelham Illustration

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