Back in late March, during a press briefing on Covid-19, President Trump half-jokingly referred to the State Department as the “Deep State Department.” In the background, an incredulous Dr. Anthony Fauci, the esteemed immunologist shepherding the country through the pandemic, put his face in his palm. The “Fauci facepalm” subsequently went viral. It also prompted calls that Fauci himself was part of the “Deep State.”
That moment was one of many examples of Trump’s fixation on the conspiracy theory that David Rohde, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and executive editor of the New Yorker, dissects in his new book, In Deep: The FBI, the CIA, and the Truth About America’s ‘Deep State.’ It was also an extraordinary display of how far Trump’s paranoid, fear-mongering political messaging goes — even a conference about a deadly pandemic is not off-limits — and a signal of the potential consequences.
GEN spoke with Rohde about what’s fact and what’s fiction in the Deep State theory, and how it affects the Covid-19 pandemic.
GEN: What is the Deep State and how has the term evolved into its current usage?
Rohde: Part of the problem is that there is no clear, agreed-upon definition of the Deep State. The term is kind of thrown around. Liberals and conservatives alike fear the government, particularly the CIA and the FBI and the NSA. Conservatives fear the administrative state; they see this constantly growing government that is relentlessly invading our privacy and our lives and taking away our rights. And liberals use a different term — they are afraid of the “military-industrial complex.” They think that there’s a cabal of generals and defense contractors that lead the country into endless wars.
The term “Deep State” was used for decades by political scientists to talk about the military in Turkey or in Egypt and thwarting democracy there. This book in 2007 by a UC Berkeley professor, Peter Dale Scott, is the first place I found where the term Deep State is applied to the American government. He feels there’s a combination of Wall Street financial…