The Deep State Is an Organism, Not a Conspiracy

Andrew McCabe listens on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, May 11, 2017, during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on major threats facing the U.S. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Every month on the 13th — and on special occasions, like November 7, June 14, January 30, and May 1 — they meet in a secret chamber under the Kalorama mansion of the Chairman. They don their white robes, with pride rainbow inclusive accents. Precisely at 7:00 p.m. — it used to be midnight, but they can’t depend on Hillary being functionally sober after 8:00 p.m. — they sing the Internationale before sitting at the long zebrawood table. The Chairman stands, his hood thrown back, posing neatly framed, haloed by the All-Seeing Eye and the golden nimbus around it, and calls the meeting of the Deep State to order.


Or at least that’s the way some on the far-Right seem to imagine the Deep State.

Of course, this notion of a single grand conspiracy is overblown, but it leads to counter-arguments, like Erick Erickson’s recent tweet about the FBI inspector general’s report:

There is no coup. There is no sinister deep state. There is no dark conspiratorial force. It’s incompetence, idiocy, bureaucratic self-aggrandizement, and partisan hackery all the way down.

Since there are no risible meetings of a Secret Cabal, it follows (for people like Erickson) that there’s no Deep State at all. This is a fallacy that is so widespread it’s endemic, part of the popular wisdom: a complicated system has to have a Boss, someone to wave the baton and a bureaucracy to follow the Boss’s orders, or it won’t work at all.

But this is a fallacy. There are plenty of systems we look at every day that have no boss: there is no tree sprite telling each tree how to grow, no homunculus in our head tripping switches and turning knobs with wild abandon trying to keep our bodies working. Instead, there are complicated feedbacks that respond to changing conditions more or less automatically. Blood pressure regulation, body weight, blood glucose concentration, sexual arousal — all happen through stimulus and response, impulse and regulatory counter-impulse.


One fascinating example is the body’s response to wounds. You cut yourself, and platelets flow to the wound site with the blood flow, rupture, and cause clotting and then scabbing. They’re followed quickly by white blood cells that excrete other chemicals that cause the wound to close and then heal. But there is no “manager” orchestrating this — it’s just chemical responses.

The FBI folks like Strzok, Page, McCabe, Attorney #2 and so on appear to have been an actual conspiracy (definition: a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful) but they alone certainly aren’t sufficient to justify people talking about a “Deep State.”

But that’s beside the point. From the point of view of the Administrative State, which survives on a diet of fresh government programs and mutual backscratching, Trump’s unexpected election was like a wound. It was a danger to the organism, and the organism responded using its immune system — which is composed of “incompetence, idiocy, bureaucratic self-aggrandizement, and partisan hackery.” The organism responded, and individuals in the Administrative State saw it as their duty to #Resist. While there may have been conspiracies going on, there needn’t be a grand conspiracy at all — just a bunch of individuals rushing to defend their political power, their rice bowls, their phony baloney jobs.


Which is a lot more scary than some single conspiracy. A conspiracy can be rooted out, the conspirators removed from office, shamed, even jailed. But the real Deep State is the way the Administrative State responds to what it sees as a threat, with no central conspiracy in control. And I don’t know how we can root that out.


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