By Alex Callinicos
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Has the ‘deep state’ turned on Donald Trump?

This article is over 7 years, 2 months old
Issue 2542
Donald Trump is at war with big sections of the US state
Donald Trump is at war with big sections of the US state (Pic: Gage Skidmore)

One striking feature of contemporary politics is the development of intense conflicts within the ruling class, with each side denouncing the other as liars.

We see this in Britain, as that renowned champion of the truth Tony Blair emerges as self-appointed leader of the Remainers’ last stand.

The same pattern is seen in the escalating rows between US president Donald Trump and wide sections of the US ruling class. The significance of the dismissal of Mike Flynn, briefly the new president’s National Security Adviser, is that it resulted from surveillance and leaking by the National Security Agency and the FBI.

No less than nine intelligence officials helped the Washington Post newspaper break the story about Flynn’s communication with Russian officials.

Trump is right that the “intelligence community” is out to get him. In the last few days the ultra-establishment New York Times newspaper and the left wing Jacobin magazine have both carried articles about the “deep state”.

This idea originated in Turkey to describe the secret network centred on the military that has made and broken governments for decades.

But the US deep state isn’t particularly secret. Michael Glennon published a recent book about “double government”. He argued that the supposed pillars of the US constitution—president, congress and supreme court—have been reduced to a “decorative” role.

The “effective” government is provided by what Glennon calls the “Trumanite network”—since it centres on the US national security institutions set up under president Harry S Truman during the late 1940s.

Glennon underestimates the role of the presidency and senior senators and congress members in linking together and lending legitimacy to the Pentagon, the CIA, and the rest of the national security state.

But undoubtedly there is a cadre whose careers cycle between universities, corporations, and these institutions and other key agencies. These managers of the US state are epitomised by war criminal Henry Kissinger and Alan Greenspan, the long-time head of the Federal Reserve central bank.


The Republican wing of this cadre rebelled against Trump’s candidacy. They were infuriated by his hostility to institutions such as Nato, which had served US imperialism well. They were also angered by his protectionism—“Buy American and hire American” as Trump said in Florida last Saturday.

Trump has been trying to recruit enough people from this cadre to give his administration credibility with the ruling class at large, while keeping the faith with his racist, nationalist sympathisers.

The latter’s leader in the White House is Stephen Bannon, who has been clear about his desire to break up the liberal capitalist international order.

So, as general Raymond Thomas of Special Operations Command said last week, the US “government continues to be in unbelievable turmoil”.

Vice president Mike Pence reassured Europe’s ruling classes of US support for Nato at the Munich Security Conference last Saturday. But a few hours later Trump repeated his earlier attacks on the Europeans for not spending enough on defence, complaining that “we’re fighting battles that no longer help us. We’re fighting battles that other people aren’t treating us fairly in the fight.”

So Flynn’s fall is unlikely to be the last ambush mounted on Trump by the Trumanite network.

Does that mean the ruling class as a whole has turned against him? The Washington Post quotes a business historian to the effect that “‘there’s just nothing’, in scale or swiftness, that has compared to the corporate response to Trump’s entry ban.” But stock market prices reached record levels last week on expectations that Trump will be giving corporate America a bonanza of tax cuts and deregulation.

So the jury is still out on the Trump administration. Other ways will no doubt be sought to discipline the new president and bring his administration into line. But on the evidence of the past week or so he’s not listening.

The US ship of state is adrift in stormy seas.

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