Over the last week, the idea of a “deep state” in the United States has become a hot concept in American politics. The idea is not new, but a combination of leaks about President Trump and speculation that bureaucrats might try to slow-walk or undermine his agenda have given it fresh currency. A story in Friday’s New York Times, for example, reports, “As Leaks Multiply, Fears of a ‘Deep State’ in America.”
It’s an idea that I touched on in discussing the leaks. While there are various examples of activity that has been labeled as originating from a “deep state,” from Latin America to Egypt, the most prominent example is Turkey, where state institutions contain a core of diehard adherents to the secular nationalism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, which is increasingly being eroded by the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Turkey has seen a series of coups, stretching back to 1960, as well as other activity attributed to a deep state.
It’s tempting to view the leaks about General Michael Flynn and other matters as a push to undermine the Trump presidency, though well short of coup, and therefore to compare it to the Turkish deep state. Some progressives have expressed a hope that bureaucracy might serve as a check on Trump, though they have generally avoided calling this a deep state. But Trump’s defenders, both in Congress and on the fringe right, have employed the term, as have centrist observers and leftist critics of the national-security state. Trump has not yet used the phrase, but it seems like only a matter of time before it pops up in some late-night or early-morning tweet.