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.