Donald Trump loves a conspiracy theory. Right now, his leadership of the most powerful country in the world seems to be built on little else. Just about everyone, it would seem, is conspiring to bring him down.
Conspiracy theories, by their very nature, are almost impossible to discredit. If there isn’t any evidence to support the theory, well, that’s because the evidence is being covered up. Trump is a master at manipulating perceptions in this way. The President is always hinting, slyly, that he knows something more, or that some new revelation is just around the corner. “Believe me,” he assures his supporters. Many of them, if his recent rallies are anything to go by, continue to do so. If Trump is failing to fulfil his promises to them, it’s because someone, or something, is using underhanded, probably illegal tactics in their illegitimate war against the President.
Trump’s conspiracy of the week is the idea of the “Deep State”. Long a favourite go-to of the far right (Samantha Bee recently did an excellent explainer), Trump has brought the idea of the “Deep State” into the spotlight. The basic idea, as Trump’s Press Secretary put it, is that operatives who have “burrowed into government” are undermining the President’s efforts to bring real change to Washington.
American intelligence agencies have a long history of behaving badly.
Like all of Trump’s conspiracy theories, there’s no real evidence to suggest that anything remotely resembling the Deep State is working against him. His own staff are doing a good enough job of undermining and discrediting him on their own. But perhaps more than any other of Trump’s outlandish claims, in the eyes of many Americans, the idea of the Deep State has a lot of currency.
The suggestion that intelligence agencies engage in illegal, underhanded activities directed against the very citizens they are supposed to protect isn’t that outrageous. It is, as whistleblowers like Edward Snowden have shown us, entirely true. While there’s no evidence of any wiretap on Trump Tower, American intelligence agencies did spy on Angela Merkel. And while your microwave isn’t spying on you, your smart TV just might be.
American intelligence agencies have a long history of behaving badly. Combined with more recent revelations, it’s this history, more than anything else, that leads Americans to think that even if he’s not right about this, Donald Trump still has a point.
One of the biggest culprits, the Central Intelligence Agency, was established in 1947 under President Harry Truman. It is a child of the Cold War, and was used by successive presidents to conduct a kind of war-by-proxy against the Soviet Union. During the Cold War, the CIA, like a few Presidents, assumed the usual rules didn’t apply. This was, after all, an existential conflict in which civilisation – indeed, all life on this planet – was at stake.
So during the Cold War, the CIA often did pretty much whatever it liked. It used bribes, manipulated media, influenced elections, and attempted to assassinate (in CIA speak, “termination with extreme prejudice”) hostile leaders like Fidel Castro.
Sometimes, the covert efforts of the agency came to light because of sheer incompetence, like the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961, which was a disaster for the new President Kennedy.
American accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election are probably accurate ….and historically speaking, entirely hypocritical.
More often, we know about the efforts of the CIA because their plans were successful. In 1953, for example, the CIA helped orchestrate a coup in Iran. 25 years later, anti-American sentiment drove the Iranian Revolution and the rise of the Ayatollah Khomeini. In Guatemala, the CIA sponsored a coup in 1954, setting in motion a government-sponsored terror that killed more than 100,000 people.
All of this is why, in a recent article in The New Yorker, an Obama official apparently said that the Russians have “just enough rope…to hang us” when it comes to allegations of interference where it isn’t welcome. American accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election are probably accurate, and have potentially explosive implications for the Trump administration, future elections in both the United States and Europe, and global order. These allegations are also, historically speaking, entirely hypocritical.
Trump, much as he would like to be, is not the victim here.
More often than not, the highest officials in the White House – including the President – were aware of, encouraged, or ordered, covert CIA operations. Historically, the CIA has worked for the President – not against him. And more often than not, the actions of the CIA have ended up undermining American ideals and interests, either through incompetence, short-sightedness, or an ideologically clouded view of the world. American intelligence agencies have acted illegally, and done untold damage to millions of lives. The evidence suggests this pattern will continue. Trump, much as he would like to be, is not the victim here.
There is no evidence that a coordinated, “Deep State” exists and is working to destroy Trump’s presidency. But historically, there is an awful lot of rope.
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