What is the Deep State, and Where Does it Come From?

The Trump era is reshaping not just American politics but also its lexicon. Terms such as “fake news”, “alt-right” and “post-truth” have entered mainstream use, and kicked up debates about what they actually mean in the process. “Deep state” is the latest to gain attention, as leaks from inside the administration frustrate Donald Trump’s supporters. Right-wing websites such as Breitbart News warn of a “deep state” that wants to “terminate” Mr Trump. Some extreme sites talk of a “war” between the deep state and the president. “If it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state,” Bill Kristol, a conservative critic of Mr Trump, recently tweeted. But what does the term actually refer to?

American pundits have often used “deep state” interchangeably with the bureaucracies of the military and spy agencies, especially those bits that leak against the government. Mr Trump’s relations with his spies have been tense since the intelligence community determined that Russia had tried to influence the election in his favour. He has publicly challenged their assessments of his team’s ties with Russia, chastised them for past intelligence failures and compared leaks against him to practices in Nazi Germany. His supporters cite “deep-state” leaks embarrassing to Mr Trump’s administration as evidence of a shadowy network of unelected government officials undermining the president. (The president has not publicly used the term.)

But the deep state started life as something else entirely. Citizens in Turkey, where the term originated, have long worried about the derin devlet (“deep state”), which refers to a network of individuals in different branches of government, with links to retired generals and organised crime, that existed without the knowledge of high-ranking military officers and politicians. Its goal was purportedly to preserve secularism and destroy communism by any means necessary, outside the regular chain of command. Starting in the 1950s Turkey’s deep state sponsored killings, engineered riots, colluded with drug traffickers, staged “false flag” attacks and organised massacres of trade unionists. Thousands died in the chaos it fomented.

In its present avatar, “deep state” seems set to go the way of “fake news” in American discourse, a once-useful term rendered meaningless by promiscuous repetition, often in reference to quite different things. Turkey is a pioneer here too. After a handful of city councils in Germany recently cancelled rallies in support for Mr Erdogan, Turkey’s foreign minister offered a simple explanation: “This is a systematic move of the German deep state.”

Source, The Economist