A new poll from Monmouth University found most Americans aren’t very familiar with the term “deep state.” But when the term is described as “a group of unelected government and military officials who secretly manipulate or direct national policy,” nearly three out of four (74%) say they believe this type of apparatus exists in Washington.
Forty-seven percent say it probably exists, and 27 percent say it definitely exists. The pollsters note that more than 7 in 10 Americans polled in each political group -- Republican, Democrat and independent -- believe in this deep state. Chris Matthews was flustered that this "deep state" suspicion runs so deep, on the right and left.
It’s self-evident that the vast majority of our government is unelected – 536 officials supervising a federal workforce estimated at 7 to 9 million people (including contractors). But what about the secret manipulation of policy? One blatantly obvious current illustration of a “deep state” is the current and former unelected officials who hide behind a wall of anonymous sourcing as they direct the news media on how to report on government and public policy.
But if Matthews wanted to complain about the public being overly concerned about secret manipulation of government, there is an obvious culprit in building this viewpoint: Hollywood.
First, think of the decades of movie plots centering on government conspiracies, from George Clooney’s Syriana to Oliver Stone’s JFK. The X-Files has been a movie and a TV series (now making a second run for the ratings under Trump). Everything we believe about the history of America, and our belief in the goodness of America, is mocked as naïve by films like this.
Then think of the TV shows. These days, we are loaded with TV shows with secret government machinations: Scandal and Designated Survivor on ABC, Blindspot and The Blacklist on NBC, Snowfall on FX and Homeland on Showtime. Even the police procedurals, from the Law & Order franchise on NBC to the NCIS franchise on CBS, have featured plots exposing nefarious government conspiracies.
Government corruption is a reality. You don't have to be hornswoggled by wacky Oliver Stone movies to believe it. Corruption happens whenever humans follow their own self-interest without any moral compass. But the corruption in these TV and movie plots is often based on a private profit motive despoiling the liberal idealism about government.
The show Designated Survivor began with a bomb attack on the U.S. Capitol that took out the entire government during the State of the Union. Only the “designated survivor,” the secretary of Housing and Urban Development, was left to assume the office of president.
The first season ended with that president revealing it wasn’t an Islamic terrorist attack. It was caused by a former CEO of a big defense contracting company and now speaks at “alt-Right gatherings.” The president explained: “His followers believed that American greatness was in its decline…our best days were behind us.” All they needed to do was put him in a red hat to finish their Trump metaphor.
Hollywood focuses all of its venom on Eisenhower’s “military-industrial complex.” It’s easy to build suspicion about our intelligence agencies and the Pentagon abusing their Top Secret clearances for greedy ends. There’s zero chance of a plot on a large government-funded abortion conglomerate outrageously selling the body parts of aborted babies. They’d probably suggest that’s too over-the-top for a fictional program.