Local View: The power elite is the real deep state

From the column: "Today, the United States spends more on its military than any other nation in the world."

Monte Wolverton / Cagle Cartoons

During the last 200-year transition from empires to modern nation-states, national governments have been accused of being unduly controlled by small segments of their populations. Many authors have pointed out that the upper class of most nations buy elections and fund those in power to do their bidding. Others believe that large government bureaucracies are the real powerbrokers, controlling all major decision-making.

Of course, when it comes to describing national power structures, it is probably best to include both the power of the rich and the power of the state.

For example, in the 1950s, American sociologist C. Wright Mills developed the idea of the “power elite.” For Mills, it was the top leaders in the military, corporations, and the executive branch that ruled the nation collectively. Mills argued, quite reasonably, that members of these three groups have a great deal in common, including circulating members from one group to another.

Take, for example, Dick Cheney. After serving as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1989 to 1993, Cheney served as chairman and CEO of Halliburton Company, one of the largest military contractors in the world, from 1995 to 2000. After his time with Halliburton, Dick Cheney became U.S. vice president from 2001 to 2009. Between 2003 and 2006, Halliburton received more than $8 billion in defense contracts from the U.S. military.

What does it matter that a power elite exists? The danger comes through collusion to make profit off the American people by creating a permanent arms industry that manipulates the nation into funding endless wars across the planet.


On Tuesday, Jan. 17, 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former five-star general, warned in his farewell speech of the dangers of what he called the “military-industrial complex.” President Eisenhower said that “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

President Eisenhower’s words were quite prophetic. Today, the United States spends more on its military than any other nation in the world. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, in 2021, the U.S. spent $738 billion on defense, more than three times that of the People’s Republic of China, whose defense budget of $193 billion was the second-largest in the world for the same year.

The size of the U.S. defense budget looks even more immense when you compare it to the next largest 13 defense budgets in the world. In 2021, those 13 nations spent a total of $729 billion on defense, $9 billion less than the defense budget of the U.S. alone.

Most people in the United States agree we should support Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders, but some also believe there should be better funding oversight. According to the Council on Foreign Affairs, the United States spent $46.6 billion on military assistance to Ukraine in 2022 alone. While this is a great deal of money, it is less than 6% of the U.S. defense budget of $782 billion in 2022. Maybe those politicians and pundits concerned with our expenditures in Ukraine should look at our overall military spending, as well and who creates and benefits from its enormity.

Recently, rhetoric has increased related to a “deep state” in America. So many are concerned that bureaucrats are somehow opposed to everything Donald Trump. This conspiracy theory reached its height when the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives created the Select Committee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government on Jan. 10.

The same day, a soon-to-be-named member of the committee, Rep. Dan Bishop, tweeted, “The Deep State is on notice. To any bureaucrat who violates Americans’ Constitutional rights — we’re coming for you, on behalf of the American people.”

Rep. Bishop and the other conspiracy theorists should turn from their partisan political fictions to the reality of the military-industrial complex.

People who have a fear of a deep state should realize that that state is neither deep nor hidden. The power elite is the deep state.


Dave Berger of Maple Grove, Minnesota, is a retired sociology professor, a freelance writer and author, and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.

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Dave Berger

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