Reactions to Mike Lofgren’s Essay on the Deep State

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Credit: Dale Robbins
This week, Mike Lofgren spoke with Bill about what he describes as America’s “Deep State,” where elected and unelected officials collude to protect and serve powerful, vested interests. In conjunction with the show, Lofgren’s essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” has been published on We asked a number of people, including several previous Moyers & Company guests, to share their reactions to the Deep State.

Andrew Bacevich on Washington’s Tacit Consensus

Military Historian
Photo: Dale Robbins
“What words best describe present-day Washington politics? The commonplace answer, endlessly repeated by politicians themselves and media observers alike, is this: dysfunction, gridlock, partisanship and incivility. Yet here’s a far more accurate term: tacit consensus. Where Republicans and Democrats disagree, however loudly, matters less than where their views align. Differences entertain. Yet like-mindedness, even if unacknowledged, determines both action and inaction.

In the ‘Bill-W.-Obama’ era, a neoliberal consensus defines American politics… With perceived threats to that system now coming primarily from abroad, exercising global leadership, backed by ample military muscle, now became one of liberalism’s abiding signatures. This modified consensus, superseding progressivism, dominated the American political scene for several decades during the latter half of the 20th century. Although the Cold War has long since ended, this emphasis on an expansive, militarized foreign policy persists.” Read more »

Heidi Boghosian on Mass Surveillance

Director, National Lawyers Guild
Photo: Dale Robbins
“The term Deep State aptly conveys how the private security industry has melded with government. It is soldered by plutocracy, perpetual war, reduction of industrial capacity, US exceptionalism and political malfunction. Lofgren is a credible and welcome interpreter of how these factors combine to exert control over us.

In addition to the Deep State’s obvious guardians — law enforcement agencies, Wall Street and Silicon Valley — the federal courts also sustain the state. The civil division of the southern district of New York, for example, handles cases defending the government’s ability to gather intelligence or protect state secrets and other information from disclosure. Importantly, Lofgren acknowledges that the social fluxes shaping history can be channeled or reversed not only by circumstance, but also by human agency.” Read more »

Danielle Brian on Legalized Corruption

Government Watchdog
Photo: Dale Robbins
“We don’t need fictional Frank Underwoods to tell us that Washington is rotten at its core. That’s because, as is often the case, the truth is much scarier than fiction. With the skill of a prosecutor, Lofgren shines a light on the secret web of influence-peddling that spreads far and wide beneath the surface of our democracy … What should really get your blood pumping are the strings being pulled by the real decision makers: the executives on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in the military-intelligence industrial complex surrounding the Beltway.

The really creepy part is that a lot of this corruption (the revolving doors, lobbying activities and campaign contributions, for instance) are legal. Mull that over: We’ve passed laws allowing the Deep State to not only exist, but also to flourish.” Read more »

Juan Cole on the Vulnerability of the Network

Professor of History, University of Michigan
“Lofgren seems to me to put too little emphasis on the impact of the September 11 attacks in allowing the vast expansion of the Deep State. It paralyzed Congress and the judiciary with regard to security and terrorism. So too did World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution allow the post-war Red Scare. These moments of timidity have occurred repeatedly in US history, but have been time-bounded. As 9/11 recedes, there will likely be a reassertion of other interests, as the author implicitly admits. A Federal judge has already called NSA domestic spying “Orwellian.” As Lofgren notes, Silicon Valley’s brand name is now endangered by being tagged in international markets as spyware, and powerful tech firms with plans for cloud computing are unlikely to take it lying down.” Read more »

Lee Fang on the Glimmer of Hope

Lee Fang
Contributing Writer, The Nation and Republic Report
“In a media environment now dominated by flickering GIFs of dogs and cats, the best truth-tellers have emerged from quite unlikely backgrounds. Just as nobody could have predicted that a Hawaii-based consultant for the NSA would singlehandedly expose the largest surveillance system in human history, Mike Lofgren’s path from the Republican staff of the Senate Budget Committee to the pages of Truthout might seem just as puzzling. And just as Edward Snowden’s revelations exposed a world increasingly controlled and watched by an unaccountable bureaucracy, Lofgren has seamlessly articulated an ascendant American power elite that many tacitly acknowledge; yet few understand.

In his essay, “Anatomy of the Deep State,” Lofgren explains how the confluence of corporate and security state power increasingly dominates the decisionmaking in Washington. While this critique has been made in the past, most notably from Professor G. William Domhoff, Lofgren provides important insights into the machinations of political control, along with historical background. He also adds a glimmer of hope, noting that the Deep State relies not just on money and access, but predictability. The chance of democratic revival will not come from the political processes taught in Civics 101. Rather, it may come from some uncertain interruption in the future or from a rot caused by the parasitic nature of the Deep State itself.”

Henry Giroux on the Neoliberal Revolution

Cultural Critic
Photo: Dale Robbins
“Two things are essential for challenging the new authoritarianism. First, there needs to be a change in collective consciousness about what democracy really means and what it might look like. This is a pedagogical task whose aim is to create the formative culture that produces the agents necessary for challenging neoliberal rule.

Secondly, there is a need for a massive social movement with distinct strategies, organizations and the will to address the roots of the problem and imagine a very different kind of society, one that requires genuine democratic socialism as its aim. Democracy is on life support in the US and working within the system to change it is a dead end, except for gaining short-term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more.” Read more »

Tim Wu on the Partisan Sideshow and Silicon Valley

Cultural Critic
“The mistake that Lofgren makes is to think that what he describes is only the case for a “Deep State” centered on national security or law enforcement. To be sure, the attention is warranted, for these are the parts of the government that wield the most terrifying powers, particularly overseas. But anyone who has worked for other parts of government knows that they too operate under the radar screen. And here, in the real business of government, we find that parties are often less relevant than are industry loyalties; instead of really being a Democrat or Republican, one is more accurately loyal to the cable industry, big oil, Hollywood and so on.

As a minor aside — and perhaps I might be accused of defending my own party — Lofgren is not familiar with Silicon Valley and makes a few errors in this respect.” Read more »

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  • Islene Runningdeer

    For years Americans bought into a collective consciousness that believed the U.S. was the world’s best, most free and fair country in the world. Many folks still believe it. This fantasy and delusion made it possible for greedy interests to burrow in and take over. I remember having to say The Pledge of Allegiance in public school every day. That kind of indoctrination takes control of all but the strongest minds in a society, and robs us all of personal power. This is how I understand the notion of Group Think, and how it can lead to disaster.

  • BorneAgain

    Not seeing much in the news about how the Tea Party was brought to heel on the debt ceiling negotiations, it was refreshing to note that there are clear insights into the inner workings of our multi-tiered shadow government. How do you verify his assertions are accurate and true?

  • Anonymous

    It’s coming at you from all directions. Tax cuts for the 1%, funded by cuts in food stamps and unemployment. Wall St. Execs given bonuses and exhorbitent pensions to go work inside Washington to disable regulations on banking, drugs, food, etc. Basically, dismantling every public protection and benefit, for profit and power. Un-hingepin, congress.

  • Mr. Smith

    As long as the Deep State’s deep pockets powers
    through our market-driven system, we’re learning of more ways our country is in
    deep trouble, but we’re always behind the curve. Lofgren appears to be calling
    for the Second Coming of Adam Smith as it was Smith who first directed our attention
    to the Hand so invisible, which has been showing us its sinister side. We need
    to make this state of invisibility much more transparent by placing a glove on
    it. People need to see in real time how our democracy is getting fleeced. America
    is crumbling, but the only thing that gets people moving is the bridge
    collapsing beneath their feet.

  • Anonymous

    Also by burying anything the US does wrong. Throwing a big flag up so you don’t see things like Abu Graib, Trail of Tears, scalping, etc. Hide it, accept no responsibility, like kindergarten.

  • LiberalinMD

    I wish Mr. Lofgren were on Twitter, because I would love to pass this message on to him: thank God you’re talking about this, because when I talk about it, people call me a conspiracy theorist (if not a lunatic).

  • LiberalinMD

    Also: thanks for affirming my faith that there are Republicans of conscience who don’t like this situation any better than I do.

  • Strawman411

    Your mentions of the Pledge of Allegiance and indoctrination brought also to mind my classmates and I having to memorize the “under God” crudely tacked on to the Pledge in 1954 — an appendage now so heatedly defended.

  • Stephen Hamilton

    I have been telling my family this as well as anyone else who would listen! The dis-function in the government isn’t a coincidental! Corporation American has been buying off the politicians for years now, and are now using God to sell their snake oil to the American Church (using God’s name in vain! Exodus 20:7)

  • Anonymous

    If my html doesn’t work, sorry for the clutter. Pretty whooped as I went in to work at 6 AM. So, I sort of scanned my way down to Cole’s piece (getting snagged along the way by Brian’s which was thought provoking).

    What Mike Lofgren described made me think of Jacques Ellul’s notion/phenomenon of technique. Cole’s mention of invisibility I think goes along with the latter. Ellul’s idea is tough to summarize; that very toughness jives in a way, I think, with the invisible quality…if these things are the same thing. What I took away from Ellul’s description (to try to do an arrogant thing in brief comments) was that it was sort of a psychology, or…utilitarian zeitgeist. Le Carre’s fictional characters demonstrate this intoxication with their own canniness re efficient means to achieving goals. Frank Underwood too, and on and on.

    Hopefully, will read more reactions mañana, or later on tonight after a nap. Giroux’s will be next. Bill, this is heavy stuff. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Pretty whooped as I went in to work at 6 AM. So, I sort of scanned my way down to Cole’s piece (getting snagged along the way by Brian’s which was thought provoking).
    What Mike Lofgren described made me think of Jacques Ellul’s notion/phenomenon of technique. Cole’s mention of invisibility I think goes along with the latter. Ellul’s idea is tough to summarize; that very toughness jives in a way, I think, with the invisible quality…if the deep state and technique do have a lot in common. What I took away from Ellul’s description (to try to do an arrogant thing in brief comments) was that it was sort of a psychology, or…utilitarian zeitgeist. Le Carre’s fictional characters demonstrate this intoxication with their own canniness re efficient means to achieving goals. Frank Underwood too, and on and on.

    ‘We have so many people who are indoctrinated, who are admitted to the secrets of state, and we have the people outside the circle.’ John Le Carre

    Hopefully, will read more reactions mañana, or later on tonight after a nap. Giroux’s will be next. Bill, this is heavy stuff. Thanks.

  • Anonymous

    The “Tea Party” (TP) was created to make the conservative movement appear clean. It wipes the asses of the corporates, neo-conservatives all yet can’t rid the citizens’ nose of the stink the neos are.


  • Anonymous

    What else to expect from the Land of the Home, Free of the Brave?
    Liberty? Only for the chosen.
    Freedom? Only for those who have the means to use it.
    Justice? Are you serious? Only if it’s already paid for.
    Speech? Press? Congregate? Ha! Just ask the NSA and its more secret subsidiaries.


  • Anonymous

    Campaign Finance Reform to remove the corrupt bag men from our government and restore law and justice for the American people.

  • Rob Chenoweth

    What about getting a view from the first person to use the term Deep State as far s I know. Peter Dale Scott…former Berkeley English prof and Canadian diplomat.

  • Alpha Wolf

    What really gets my blood pumping is that a comment I posted here on Friday night got flagged for “moderation” and disappeared into a “polar vortex.” I guess quoting Thoreau’s critique of the state in “Civil Disobedience,” and making a broader critique of the state, of which the “deep state” is just one arm, is somehow verboten on Moyers and Company.

    The “Deep State” goes back at least to WWII and peaked under Bill’s former boss’s administration (was I censored because I mentioned this?) and that of his predecessor and reasserted itself in more virulent form after 9/11, but echoing my censored comment, the state, which in total accounts for over 38% of our economy (the vast majority of this going to liberal Democratic programs), has it’s finger in every pie.

    Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth and Ministry of Love must really be watching.


  • Norman Morris

    As long the ever-fading middle class keeps voting against their better interests, all this will just get worse. More often than not, when we see something wrong, what do we do? We vote the same people in for another term to do even more damage to all of us. What we call chaos is just patterns we haven’t or don’t want too recognized.

  • moderator

    Alpha Wolf,

    Your comment ended up in the spam folder. It has been posted. In the future, please contact us first and we are always happy to check on any issue. We do are very best, and we wish you would give us the benefit of the doubt before accusing anyone of censorship. As well, please re-read our comment policy, it is very clear about the rules for being part of our community.

    Sean @ Moyers

  • Alpha Wolf

    Thanks Sean,

    Was surprised when I came back and didn’t see it and didn’t know who I had offended. I did re-read the comment policy and, while my comments can be provocative , and I don’t expect to get a lot of “Likes” in most cases, I always try to be respectful and follow the rules of the road

    I actually really liked Lofgren’s article, and all of the comments, although I took issue with some points. I am as concerned as everyone else who commented about the “deep state,” and, perhaps more importantly, our corrupted state (another major topic on Moyers & Co.), but this may not have come through in my initial comment.

    I tend to see the deep state as a symptom of a much larger problem with the state in general, but, unlike many Moyers commentators and guests, I tend to see the corruption on both sides of the aisle and coming from interest groups of all ideological colors, not that I’m indifferent on specific issues.

    My main point, which also may not have come through clearly, was that the state, and all of the intertwining webs of interest groups, has become so large and monolithic (ie: the Leviathan) that civil society gets dwarfed and many potentially progressive, well meaning policies become Kafkaesque nightmares that don’t accomplish their ends and hurt those they are intended to help. Like Moyers & Co., I want nothing more than to see this situation reformed, but despair at seeing it happen since the red foxes and blue foxes are watching the henhouse, not to mention you and me.

    Mea culpa to you personally and the entire Moyers team for assuming censorship. While I can sometimes be critical on specific points, I think Moyers & Co. is one of the best shows on TV that addresses issues that don’t get a fair hearing in mainstream media.


  • Anonymous

    Dear Sean: You “our” not trying all that hard.

  • moderator

    Good catch. I blame the Deep State!

    Sean @ Moyers

  • Anonymous

    You do, of course, know that Peter Dale Scott coined the term and documented its existence as it related to the coup that took out JFK and took over our country. The presence of the deep state is palpable as disclosure after disclosure shows us just how deeply our system of government has been penetrated by an entity concerned only with self-enrichment and advancing its ideological agenda at our expense.

  • Anonymous

    My Uncle Jacob got a year 2013 Audi TT RS
    Coupe by working part time online. imp source F­i­s­c­a­l­M­a­z­e­.­ℂ­o­m

  • Anonymous

    I think we have to fix both – ourselves AND the public arena. Not only spirit and heart demands this, but the cause and effect interdependence is obvious.

  • Political Atheist aka Javaman

    thank god you will never be president.