Friday cartoon

Like “fake news,” the “Deep State” has come to mean whatever one wants it to mean.

If you belong to the dwindling cohort of Americans involved/engaged in public discourse who still care about facts, the term originated in Turkey in the 1990s. It journeyed to the United States five years ago with publication of a book by a former congressional staffer. In “The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government,” Mike Lofgren railed against “a hybrid association of elements of government and parts of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States without reference to the consent of the governed.”

The definition was, in many ways, spot-on, but the expression itself quickly became a rhetorical tool. Why explore the nature and nuances of the Deep State when the colloquialism can be conveniently employed against anything the federal government does that you don’t like?

MAGA minions charge that the Deep State, manifesting itself in the form of law-enforcement officers and intelligence agents, is conspiring against The Greatest President Of All Time. Capitalizing on a trendy term in heavy rotation, author James B. Stewart has written “Deep State: Trump, the FBI and the Rule of Law,” which his publisher touts as “the definitive story of the war between President Trump and America’s principal law enforcement agencies, answering the questions that the Mueller report couldn’t — or wouldn’t.”

Only Big Government’s dead-end defenders refuse to concede that the federal public sector isn’t gargantuan. Scott McNealy once disparaged D.C. as a place with “all these unbelievable monuments to government, agencies that have no reason for being on the planet — the Department of Agriculture, Transportation, FEMA, Health, Education, Commerce — all these huge erections of brick and mortar and masses of people running around redistributing wealth. The whole thing drives me absolutely into a freaking funk.”

The co-founder of Sun Microsystems surely grew funkier, if he read The Washington Post a few days after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Bush v. Gore. Clifford Adelman, an educrat deeply embedded in one of the bureaucracies McNealy despises, told the newspaper that a Republican replacing a Democrat had no effect on him: “I’m in the biggest project of my life right now, and that’s not going to stop when the administration changes. It doesn’t matter who’s the secretary or who’s the president, it’s going to get done.”

Sounds disturbingly similar to how the military-industrial complex operates, doesn’t it? “National security” is certainly a core component of the Deep State. As described by William D. Hartung and Mandy Smithberger of the Project On Government Oversight’s Center for Defense Information, the “pots of money dedicated to fighting wars, preparing for yet more wars and dealing with the consequences of wars already fought” added up to more than $1.2 trillion in fiscal 2019.

But at just under $2 trillion, the biggest monster lurking in the Deep State’s mire is D.C.’s commitment to pension and health-care programs. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the “Children’s Health Insurance Program” and Obamacare subsidies gobbled up 50 percent of federal expenditures in fiscal 2017, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

The bulk of that loot is enthusiastically harvested by a group that, age-wise, is the most politically active: the elderly. And oldsters are richly rewarded for their devotion. The Urban Institute helpfully computes, on a regular basis, “the expected present value at age 65 of (Social Security and Medicare) benefits received in retirement and taxes paid over a career for households with different earnings and marriage histories.” Here are a few examples of the windfalls — i.e., lifetime benefits minus lifetime tax contributions — people retiring in 2020 will receive:

  • A “single man with average earnings ($51,900 in 2018 dollars)”: $167,000
  • A “single woman with low earnings ($23,400 in 2018 dollars)”: $310,000
  • A “married couple with two average earners ($103,800 in 2018 dollars)”: $407,000
  • A “married one-earner couple with high earnings ($83,000 in 2018 dollars)”: $602,000

With that kind of largesse rolling into households from coast to coast, it’s easy to see why the official estimate of the feds’ 75-year, greedy-geezer unfunded liability is $46.7 trillion. (That’s on top of the current national debt of $22.8 trillion.)

So it turns out the biggest item on Washington’s tasking list isn’t rewarding arrogant education apparatchiks or enriching dastardly “defense” contractors. It’s serving the army of the entitled — via wildly popular programs.

Deep State, meet Debt State. The latter will make us nostalgic for the former.

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D. Dowd Muska is a New Mexico-based writer.

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