Mark Tapson is the Shillman Fellow on Popular Culture for the David Horowitz Freedom Center.
What is the difference between a conspiracy theory and the truth? About six months.
Vindicated conservatives have been circulating that meme on the internet in the wake of being proven correct about every single thing the Left has denied over the last couple of years as nutty, right-wing conspiracy theories: from the Wuhan lab origins of the coronavirus, to Critical Race Theory being taught in schools, to the existence of a shadow government known as the Deep State (the Wikipedia entry for the Deep State insists four times in the first four sentences that this notion is a debunked conspiracy theory).
The Deep State, or “Swamp,” not only exists, but has roots reaching much farther back than just the presidency of Donald Trump, whose outsider status and populist appeal posed an unprecedented threat to the many-tentacled shadow government. That is the subject of the must-read new book Dragonslayers: Six Presidents and Their War With the Swamp, by the prolific historian Larry Schweikart. Dr. Schweikart’s previous works include, among others, Reagan: The American President (about which I previously interviewed him here), 48 Liberal Lies About American History, and A Patriot’s History of the United States (co-written with Michael Allen).
(That last title, by the way, is a much-needed antidote to the radical propagandist Howard Zinn’s poisonous, subversive People’s History of the United States, which has infected nearly every schoolroom in America for the last four decades. If only Schweikart’s book had been taught as widely since its publication in 2004, then perhaps we wouldn’t be reeling from the violent anti-Americanism of a couple of generations of youth brainwashed to despise our country, its values, and its Constitution.)
In addition to his numerous books, you can read Dr. Schweikart’s current political commentary at his Substack account here, and check out his Wild World of History site as well – an invaluable resource for teaching the truth about history.
Dragonslayers, released today, examines the struggles of half a dozen American Presidents who confronted their particular iterations of the entrenched Deep State. Those six are Abraham Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and of course, Trump, who had campaigned on the promise to “drain the Swamp,” by which he originally meant lobbyists. But the Swamp ran layers deeper within the government than he had anticipated.
In his introduction, Schweikart observes that “for almost 200 years Americans have been at war with one group of elites or another. These groups have embraced positions from supporting slavery to seeking governance by a corporatist network to policy by an agency whose purpose is to remain secret.” By the 21st century this Swamp had “united the law enforcement agencies, the military, and much of corporate America under its control along with media, entertainment, and tech giants.”
In chapters titled after the various versions of the Swamp with which these men wrestled (“Abraham Lincoln and the Slave Swamp,” “Teddy Roosevelt and the Trust Swamp,” “John F. Kennedy and the CIA Swamp,” etc.), Schweikart explores and evaluates how each president dealt with this faceless challenge.
Of the six men, Schweikart deems the earlier three – Lincoln, Cleveland, and Roosevelt – to be the most successful in combating the Swamp. Lincoln, Schweikart says, was in fact “the only one of our six presidents to achieve a knockout over a swamp foe,” for “[s]lavery would never again exist in America.” Cleveland was at least “moderately successful” with a “Spoils Swamp” that was “far less bloody, but much more difficult to control and terminate.” The trust-busting Roosevelt was temporarily successful at regulating the Trust Swamp. Cleveland and Roosevelt both “found their enemies more slippery, less easy to attack legally, and well-supported and financed” in comparison to the Swamp Lincoln conquered.
But the Deep State continued to grow in power and size over time and thus, by contrast with the first three Presidents, the chapters on JFK, Reagan, and Trump are gathered under the heading, “Failures.” When JFK took office, he discovered that he could not control the Central Intelligence Agency, which after World War II had taken on “a life of its own when it came to dictating foreign policy. Using coups, assassinations, and other covert means seldom with the direct approval of a president, the CIA literally changed foreign governments and directed events abroad in ways that a president, such as John Kennedy, could be hemmed into a policy such as the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs.” Kennedy ultimately even found that he needed the agency for his own purposes.
Reagan came into office with the aim of reducing the size of a massive, unelected government bureaucracy. Indeed, Schweikart notes that it was Reagan’s third-highest priority behind restoring the American economy and rebuilding the military to counter the Soviet threat. But the administrative state had already grown “so large and powerful that it literally wrote its own laws, had its own armed police forces, and stood beyond Congress’s ability to control it… Courts gave these agencies the widest of latitudes, enabling them to wield a power the Founders never intended.” Reagan barely made a dent in the monolith. “The closest thing to eternal life I have seen on the earth is a government agency,” he quipped.
Trump’s arrival in the Oval Office triggered the Deep State “into full ‘resistance’ mode to stop his every policy. Never in our history had so many unelected despots tried to undo the results of a legitimate election,” Schweikart writes. They failed with the 2016 election but, thanks to “outright election tampering by Google, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites” and the collaboration of an activist news media, they succeeded in 2020.
Interestingly, Schweikart credits not a President but the late conservative talk radio icon Rush Limbaugh with dealing “the biggest blow to the Deep State, and one that delayed our demise by decades.” By providing a counter to the monolithic, left-leaning establishment media, the fearless Rush – beloved by the right and despised by the left – opened the door to the later launch of Fox News.
Schweikart concludes the book by demolishing the smear against conservatives that they are merely “paranoid” about a leftist shadow government. But confirming its existence is just the first step; he warns that “[a]ttacking and dismantling the Deep State will take decades of dedicated work,” and the Swamp could still emerge triumphant. “It remains to be seen if Trump merely bought us four years or was the herald of a new, slow burn against the administrative state,” he muses. He finds hope in the recent passage of election integrity legislation and other anti-Deep State laws in many states across the country, but “[t]here is only so much states can do.”
It’s fitting that Larry Schweikart’s Dragonslayers: Six Presidents and Their War With The Swamp is dedicated to “the imprisoned martyrs of Patriot Day, January 6, 2021” – political prisoners of a Trump-hating Deep State that ruthlessly destroys the lives of anyone and everyone who opposes its lust for power, from the Oval Office occupant to the lowliest MAGA patriot. Dragonslayers is a must-read for comprehending that insidious shadow government: why it came about, why its various versions have been so difficult to defeat, and why it remains such a formidable threat to democracy today.