This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
Once upon a time, it was an "invisible government" -- or, at least, that's what David Wise and Thomas Ross called it in their famed 1964 book of that title. Those two journalists, shining a bright light into "the shadows" of the Cold War, found the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies working assiduously to shape the world. The opening lines of their book were memorable: "There are two governments in the United States today. One is visible. The other is invisible." Wise and Ross began, then added, "The first is the government that citizens read about in their newspapers and children study about in their civics books. The second is the interlocking, hidden machinery that carries out the policies of the United States in the Cold War. This second, invisible government gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe."
That was then, of course, and this is now. The U.S. Intelligence Community, or IC (as it likes to call itself), has almost doubled its membership since then. Its budget only continues to rise as part of a trillion-dollar-plus national security state that, in our era, has been ominously dubbed -- by President Trump's supporters and others -- "the deep state." It's a phrase that still implies 1960s-style invisibility, a vast, increasingly powerful structure somehow entombed in the bedrock of the capital that you might miss entirely.
Today, TomDispatch regular Andrew Bacevich explores some of the myths of our time that the Trump presidency has, however inadvertently, helped expose. I'd like to add one of my own: that modern version of the "invisible government." To my mind, what Trump's moment has helped illuminate is that all those intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, and the rest of that national security state might as well be called the shallow state or perhaps, with Wise and Ross in mind, the visible government. That staggeringly funded fourth branch of government now looms so large that it regularly proves capable of thwarting the will and wishes of this or any other president when it wants its way. Its retired officials -- take as an example former CIA Director John Brennan, now an MSNBC/NBC News national security analyst -- are no longer living lives modestly off the grid. They are now TV personalities, chattering their heads off, extremely visible emissaries from that very visible government that remains remarkably unaccountable to anyone, Donald Trump included.
Now, let Bacevich take you on a tour of some of the other phenomena of our increasingly bizarro American world that Donald Trump has helped make all too visible. Tom
Can We Stop Pretending Now?
The Trump Era as an Occasion for Truth Telling
By Andrew J. Bacevich
Irony, paradox, contradiction, consternation -- these define the times in which we live. On the one hand, the 45th president of the United States is a shameless liar. On the other hand, his presidency offers an open invitation to Americans to confront myths about the way their country actually works. Donald Trump is a bullshit artist of the first order. Yet all art reflects the time in which it's produced and Trump's art is no exception. Within all the excrement lie nuggets of truth.- Advertisement -
Well before Trump rode the down escalator to the center of American politics, there were indicators aplenty that things had gone fundamentally awry. Yet only with the presidential election of 2016 did the chickens come home to roost. And with their arrival, it became apparent that more than a few propositions hitherto accepted as true are anything but.
Let me offer seven illustrative examples of myths that the Trump presidency has once-and-for-all demolished.
Myth #1: The purpose of government is to advance the common good. In modern American politics, the concept of the common good no longer has any practical meaning. It hasn't for decades. The phrase might work for ceremonial occasions -- inaugural addresses, prayer breakfasts, that sort of thing -- but finds little application in the actual business of governing.
When did politics at the national level become a zero-sum game? Was it during Richard Nixon's presidency? Bill Clinton's? While the question may be of academic interest, more pertinent is the fact that, with Trump in the White House, there is no need to pretend otherwise. Indeed, Trump's popularity with his "base" stems in part from his candid depiction of his political adversaries not as a loyal opposition but an enemy force. Trump's critics return the favor: their loathing for the president and -- now that Trump's generals are gone -- anyone in his employ knows no bounds.
It's the Mitch McConnell Rule elevated to the status of dogma: If your side wins, mine loses. Therefore, nothing is more important than my side winning. Compromise is for wusses.
Myth #2: Good governance entails fiscal responsibility. This is one of the hoariest shibboleths of modern American politics: feckless Democrats tax and spend; sober Republicans stand for balanced budgets. So President Ronald Reagan claimed, en route to racking up the massive deficits that transformed the United States from the world's number one creditor into its biggest debtor. George W. Bush doubled down on Reagan's promise. Yet during his presidency, deficits skyrocketed, eventually exceeding a trillion dollars per annum. No apologies were forthcoming. "Deficits don't matter," his vice president announced.- Advertisement -
Then along came Trump. Reciting the standard Republican catechism, he vowed not only to balance the budget but to pay off the entire national debt within eight years. It was going to be a cinch. Instead, the projected deficit in the current fiscal year will once again top a cool trillion dollars while heading skywards. The media took brief note -- and moved on.
Here's the naked truth that Trump invites us to contemplate: both parties are more than comfortable with red ink. As charged, the Democrats are indeed the party of tax and spend. Yet the GOP is the party of spend-at-least-as-much (especially on the Pentagon) while offering massive tax cuts to the rich.
Myth #3: Justice is blind. The nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the controversies surrounding his confirmation affirmed in unmistakable terms what had been hidden in plain sight since at least 1987 when Robert Bork was denied a seat on the court. The Supreme Court has become a venue for advancing a partisan agenda. It serves, in effect, as a third legislative body, consisting of unelected members with lifelong tenure, answerable only to itself. So politically active Americans of whatever stripe believe. Justice impartially administered is for people who still believe in the Tooth Fairy.