Who doesn’t like a good conspiracy theory? It used to be that our conspiracy theories had a little bit of plausibility to them. When I was growing up, the big conspiracy theory was that Lee Harvey Oswald didn’t actually kill John F. Kennedy. Hundreds of books were written, each with a different conspiracy theory that its author asserted had to be correct. They covered quite a breadth of theories, but a lot of them were tied somehow to the USSR and/or Cuba. Some of them talked about the Deep State which could not allow a Catholic president, at least not for long. A mysterious entity called The Trilateral Commission seemed to be behind a lot of it.
Today, that particular conspiracy theory looks pretty tame. With the rise of QAnon we get conspiracy theories so outlandish that sane people like me figure no one sane could possibly believe it, not even those who wrote JFK assassination conspiracy books. But of course, you would be wrong. Trump is catering to the QAnon crowd, but really anyone who will vote for him. It’s estimated there are millions of QAnon followers and not just here in the USA. Some are likely to be elected to Congress in the coming election. QAnon-ers believe that someone with the code name Q, who has ties to the deep, deep state knows what’s really going on. He(?) will place his bursts of insight out on the dark web. QAnon wants you to know … oh heck, I’ll just quote from Wikipedia:
QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory. It alleges that a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles is running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against US President Donald Trump, who is battling against the cabal. The theory also commonly asserts that Trump is planning a day of reckoning known as “The Storm”, when thousands of members of the cabal will be arrested. No part of the theory is based on fact. QAnon has accused many liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, and high-ranking officials of being members of the cabal. It also claimed that Trump feigned conspiracy with Russians to enlist Robert Mueller to join him in exposing the sex-trafficking ring and preventing a coup d’état by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and George Soros.
The most well-known QAnon conspiracy you probably heard about: Pizzagate. Apparently, Comet Ping Pong Pizza in Washington, D.C. was running a pedophilia ring in its basement. The minor fact that Comet Pizza doesn’t even have a basement, of course, was immaterial to those who believed in the theory.
I spent thirty-two years working for Uncle Sam. I held a number of security clearances over those years, including one that gave me access to Sensitive Compartmentalized Information. To this day I still feel I can’t utter two words they told me (except to those with the same clearance) because it was so super-secret, even though I have seen it repeatedly used in public. I’m still afraid if I utter them, some FBI agent will haul me away – they put the fear of the law in me back then. Fifteen of those years were with the U.S. Department of Defense, nine of them in the Pentagon where I worked hand in hand with members of the U.S. Air Force staff, specifically the people that put the budgets together (I helped maintain their information systems.) I also spent a year between jobs working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and saw lots of politicians, including Ted Kennedy.
My time at the DCCC was illustrative. Rather than learn of any vast conspiracy theories, I discovered the business of political fundraising was sleazy; the more you contributed, the more access you had. For example, contribute a certain amount and you got into the Speaker’s Club (the House was then run by the Democrats), and in theory had the ear of then-Speaker Tip O’Neil at regularly scheduled events that you had access to because you gave them enough money. It was all spelled out in the brochure. That was a depressing lesson about how politics really worked, as it confirmed what I already knew but hoped was wrong. Rather than working on vast conspiracy theories, the people there tried to elect Democrats already compromised by selling their souls to special interests. In their spare time, the staff spent time at their PCs playing Leisure Suit Larry – someone had gotten a bootleg copy and passed it around.
Sadly, to your conspiracy buffs, I saw no evidence of a Deep State. I understand the appeal of conspiracy theories though. We want to find a simple explanation for the mammoth complexity of our government as it actually is. We want to put things in a comfortable frame, and a conspiracy theory as outlandish as it is at least is simpler than and easier to wrap our minds around than the complexity of our government on all levels as it actually is. Our government is no House of Cards, although the show was great entertainment.
But the good news is that 32 years in the system made me appreciate government. It was then a more coherent institution. If you want a disruptor, Donald Trump is doing a good job. He is working hard to get rid of civil service protections for many employees now, the sorts like Dr. Anthony Fauci who work in the public interest. Trump wants them all to be toadies and we can see how well that’s worked out in his first term.
Sadly, some of these institutions have been bent unacceptably, particularly the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). In general, I found my time as a civil servant inspiring in many ways. Trump’s children and in-laws may not follow the Hatch Act, but annually I had to take online training to make sure I remembered the rules, and the consequences of breaking them. There were all sorts of rules which often didn’t make a whole lot of sense. When I worked for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), I was not allowed to own any energy or mining stocks or mutual funds, even though there were relatively few geologists in the agency. But the rules did keep us from using insider knowledge to our own benefit. In general, I deeply respected my chain of command and felt confident that they were doing their best to work in the national interest and according to the law.
But our government’s complexity is mind-numbing. It’s the price we pay because we live in an increasingly complex world. I don’t expect it to get any better because the world is not going to become a simpler place, however we might want it to be. If it was, we could at least understand it. Since we can’t, it’s easier for many of us to imagine there is some secret cabal controlling it all and that Donald Trump of all people is going to expose it. In reality, it’s all a sort of organized chaos overseen by often inept elected politicians who come and go as elections are won and lost. It’s amazing it functions as well as it does.