The Use of Coded Political Terminology, QAnon & the "Deep State"Myth
I have always been fascinated by "coded" political terminology and often discuss its use in my political science classes. It's especially relevant to understanding the Trump administration's fixation on the "deep state," but he didn't invent "coded" political terminology.
Politicians have often used terminology that carries a "loaded" meaning which their supporters understand and which they know carries a negative connotation well beyond the words themselves. Often such words carry a racist message; think for example about "Willie Horton", "states' rights", and President Trump's usage of the word "thugs". Each has been used to convey a racist sentiment without being overtly racist. Some have a shelf-life like "Willy Horton", but others have endured and sometimes repackaged like "states' rights". Superficially, states' rights simply means that under our Constitution states can enact laws without federal interference. The principle, however, has often been used to justify the right to enact discriminatory laws like the South's Jim Crow statutes, bans on same-sex and interracial marriages, and, more recently, discriminatory immigration legislation in Arizona.
Coded political terminology isn't always racist, however. One of the Trump administration's favorite code words was "deep state". Historically, it has its roots in a network which began after WWI in Turkey devoted to opposing communism and protecting the new Turkish Republic of Mustafa Ataturk. In the 1950s, the group called "derin devlet", meaning “deep state” killed off thousands of its opponents in order to protect the Republic. The term was appropriated by Breitbart News and other right-wing news sources to support a variety of conspiracy theories having to do with shadowy figures in the federal government who opposed Donald Trump and his policies.
So, is the deep state a real thing? No; it's a myth, but it was used effectively by the former President's supporters to convey the specter of career bureaucrats working to impede Trump's mission to clean up the "swamp" by undermining his presidency. They were characterized as traitors to Trump's agenda, and were accused of cooking up the Ukraine bribery scandal in order to bring down the President.
David Rohde, A Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, who was held captive by the Taliban for seven months in 2009, released a book in 2020 titled, "In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth about America's "Deep State." that thoroughly debunks the deep state myth, but it's unlikely to put it to rest.
The wacky folks behind QAnon concocted all sorts of Covid-19 conspiracy theories tied to the deep state. QAnon is an internet phenomenon that preaches that a "deep state cabal of global elites" is responsible for much of the evil in the world. They believe that this cabal sought to undermine Donald Trump during the coronavirus crisis.
The Conversation: "From February until the second week of March , QAnon followed the lead of Trump in downplaying the threat of the virus and calling it a hoax. They believed the virus was a deep state plot to damage the president’s chance at re-election. The QAnon community said those warning about the pandemic threat were trying to detract from U.S. domestic politics, stop Trump rallies and remove all the economic gains they contended had occurred during the Trump presidency."
And, unfortunately for America, Trump seems to have bought into at least some of the Covid-19/deep state nonsense.
New York Times: "Unfolding as it did in the wake of his impeachment by the House and in the midst of his Senate trial, Mr. Trump’s response was colored by his suspicion of and disdain for what he viewed as the “Deep State” — the very people in his government whose expertise and long experience might have guided him more quickly toward steps that would slow the virus, and likely save lives."
Not all deep state conspiracy theorists are as ridiculous as QAnon, but they all rely on America's innate distrust of government, a trait that stretches all the way back to the founding of the republic. Some distrust of large institutions and organizations [public and private] is healthy, but the current deep state narrative is way overblown and more than a bit silly.
In reality the "deep state" is made up of career professionals [our neighbors, friends and family members] who keep the government running no matter how incompetent their politically appointed bosses might be [think Ben Carson or Betsy DeVos].
Rebecca Ingber in the Lawfareblog has a wonderful take on the whole idea of a "deep state":
"The Real Bureaucrats of DC likely find it partly amusing and partly bewildering that so much of the country imbues them, collectively, with such power, and such organized power in particular. They may also quite reasonably find it insulting that, having in many cases given up higher salaries and certainly better offices for the privilege of working long nights and weekends to serve their country through multiple presidencies across political lines, they are being painted as traitors or at the very least political hacks. But far from an organized cabal of conniving puppeteers, these faceless bureaucrats are just people like you and me. (And, as I mentioned, one of them once was me.) They go to work every day, put dinner on the table at night, procrastinate, gripe, and generally do the best they can at their jobs, whether or not they are enamored of their boss that day."
Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former 2016 campaign chair and White House strategist, admitted that the deep state is a rhetorical invention, a myth.
Bannon is quoted in a new book, by James B Stewart, saying that the “deep state conspiracy theory is for nut cases" ...because “America isn’t Turkey or Egypt”. He goes on to argue that America does have a formidable government bureaucracy, and he is right about that. It's formidable, well educated, and experienced, and some within it didn't support Donald Trump. But many didn't support or vote for President Obama either. In any case, they showed up each morning and did their jobs, looking forward to the weekend, just like you and me.
By: Don Lam, Curated Content