If the United States is indeed a deep state, “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 as expressed through the formal political process,” as the author of the term described it, surely one of its centers of power must be Washington, D.C. On a trip to the nation’s capital last week, I was on the lookout for signs of it.
I figured it must exist somewhere. Why else would Fox News host Sean Hannity have told former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in early December that because of the deep state the two of them, along with others who have criticized special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, “may end up in jail” for their support of president Donald Trump?
I did my due diligence.
I arrived at the Baltimore-Washington Airport. I read the Washington Post and other newspapers. I traveled on the Metro between Bethesda and the Capitol and back. I went to the National Gallery of Art. I ate out in a couple of restaurants. I attended a wonkish economics seminar presented by a liberal think tank. And I was entertained by an anti-Trump podcast on my drive around the Beltway headed back to the Catskills.
“They will stop at nothing,” Hannity had said on the TV show. “This is what I’m trying to get across to people. This is serious. This is the rule of law in this country now.”
“Amen,” Bannon responded. “Amen.”
What I saw was the nation’s fifth largest metropolitan area at 6.1 million people, a stable, well-educated, prosperous up-and-coming city with a fair amount of construction and a continuing evolution from its reputation as a one-industry government town. Declines in federal contracting are being offset by gains elsewhere. “The area’s economy is also now less reliant on the U.S government, as evidenced by recent job gains in the private sector,” concluded a recent report from the Society for Human Resources Management.
Accounting for 60 percent of all job growth, private professional and business services and private education and health services now employ over a million of the 3.2 million persons in the metropolitan area labor force, according to 2016 federal labor statistics.
In mid-2017 the hotelier Marriott International had announced it would join Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Capital One Financial in making the Washington area its world headquarters, occupying the lion’s share of a million-square-foot office building in Bethesda.
At the National Gallery, I spent time with ten of the 34 known works attributed to Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. These works from the third quarter of the 17th century were included in a show called “Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting.” For people like myself, standing face to face with a Vermeer is a great privilege. I will probably never again see the one stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990, and I haven’t yet been invited to Windsor Castle by the queen to see her Vermeer.
That show was only a small fraction of the great art I was able to see at the museum on that day. No enthusiast of cultural or social or political experience can cross out items on their bucket list without visiting a small number of great cities. Increasingly, the former regional backwater of Washington, DC is thought of as having become one of them.
For the true believers in the existence of the deep state, accumulations of cultural prestige and economic wealth such as exist in America’s great cities only hinder political participation.
Economist Edward Glaeser in his 2011 book “Triumph of the City” described the city as mankind’s greatest invention, bringing out the best in humankind by magnifying humanity’s strengths. How? They spur innovation by facilitating face-to-face interaction, Glaeser argued. They attract talent and sharpen it through competition. They encourage entrepreneurship. And they allow for social and economic mobility.
There’s intrinsic value in being the twin brother of a government econometrician. On the morning of my departure, I tagged along with my brother and his wife to a downtown lecture at the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank that conducts economic research. The main speaker, Susan Houseman of the Upjohn Institute of Michigan, has been a close student of trends in manufacturing employment. She, in the company of some respected academic economists, has argued for a number of years that globalization, not automation, was responsible for the dramatic drop in manufacturing employment in the United States.
Manufacturing output growth has been rising fairly quickly even while American manufacturing jobs have dropped from roughly 19 million in 1977 to about twelve million in 2015. Houseman has argued that the computer industry, only 13 percent of all manufacturing jobs, has been responsible for most of the measured manufacturing productivity growth. Improvements in the products, not increasing automation, has accounted for the higher productivity numbers. The loss of production jobs in the computer industry, abetted by manipulated exchange rates, low tariffs and corporate offshoring inversions, have been contributing to the decline of domestic manufacturing.
Experts from other prestigious think tanks made their comments. They questioned the separation of the computer industry from the rest of manufacturing.
What is the hunter for the deep-state perspective to think? On the one hand, such a concentration of elite brainpower exchanging views in abstruse terminology could only be cause for suspicion. On the other, the aficionados of the deep state must find deeply sympathetic the theme of the injustices done to middle-class manufacturing workers deprived of their livelihood by invisible forces beyond their control.