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The fix is in. Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. The votes have yet to be fully cast, let alone counted, but even if the national ballot box is in for a jack-in-the-box surprise, the outcome is set. The U.S. is democratic up to a point, after which more weighty considerations weigh in.

The political system of the world’s most powerful country has evolved to produce manageable and malleable candidates, not upstarts, rebels and rank populists. The problem with Trump’s presidential bid is that it is hard to picture a man with such gut-punching rhetoric presiding over the Pentagon, the CIA, the State Department, Wall Street, the Supreme Court and other power players integral to America’s august establishment.

Deep states do their best work by sleight of hand, installing career politicians in their stead, leaving the real machinations hidden from view. Americans got a glimpse of the deep state rearing its head during the impasse of the presidential election in 2000, in which Bush was proclaimed victorious over Gore, with a nudge from the Supreme Court, even though the “winner” actually lost the popular vote.

The Hillary Clinton versus Donald Trump contest is interesting because for the first time in memory it pits a quintessential establishment figure backed by one of the main parties and most of the media against an outsider who is so outside the norms of normal political practice that even his own party barely supports him, and in some ways can be said to be actively thwarting his bid. Trump is no outsider to power or dirty politics, his money alone makes him a player and contender in the great board game of American political life, but he has cast himself, and been enthusiastically cast by others, as a populist out of control, control being the operative word.

Consider the success, and utter failure, of the consummately controlled Barack Obama. He rode into the White House on a media wave of enthusiasm on the basis of beaming optimism and apt rhetoric, despite a paucity of experience and political know-how. He was the perfect poster boy for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), groomed in a few short years to ride the wave of identity politics that Democrats became adept at exploiting to their advantage at the polls. An affable frontman from beginning to end, he achieved little, in part due to obdurate opposition, but it was business as usual for all the big players. His deal with the devil was to trade the considerable perks of being president, and the positive optics of being the first black one, while dutifully playing along with the Democratic Party’s agenda and the ever-evolving Pentagon project of the month, be it the billion-dollar chase for Bin Laden, peppering the skies with killer drones, “pivoting” to Asia or promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership in an attempt to encircle China. As Obama enters the formal lame duck phase of a presidency, which, in some regards has been in lame duck mode since inauguration, the U.S. military is launching drones and dropping bombs on at least seven different countries.

With the “rise” of Beltway insider Hillary Clinton, who earned considerable income and clout in and out of office by aligning herself with “generous” vested interests, the DNC has admirably aimed to convince America that the time for a female president was nigh but less admirably insisted that only their hand-chosen hack would do. An able woman of comparable expertise and less prone to lying, such as Elizabeth Warren, was put on hold by the political machine because it wasn’t her “turn.” Meanwhile, Bernie Sander’s insurgent campaign almost upset the DNC apple cart in the primaries until he, too, was roped in, by the very party insiders who schemed to undo his popular bid.

The projection of power works best when the controlling hand is kept behind the wizard’s curtain. Egypt is an example of a country where the deep secular state, represented by hard-core Abdel Sisi, was forced to reveal its hand in the violent overthrow of the Islamist-leaning democratic government of populist Mohammed Morsi. Turkey, in contrast, offers an example where the fundamentalist-leaning Recep Tayyip Erdogan used militant populism at the polls to deracinate a deeply rooted, and staunchly secular, military establishment. In Thailand, the deep state of the military has long been a counterweight to rough-and-tumble domestic politics. It has infamously intervened over the years with various coups, smugly priding itself as the bottom line and balancing force when things sway too far in one direction or another.

In each of these cases, runaway populism threatened the business-as-usual needs of the deep state apparatus in which the military, big business, global trading partners and other entrenched institutions hold sway. When a deep state feels compelled to expose its hidden hand, most dramatically in the form of a karate chop-like coup, the trappings of popular democracy are shown to be just that, trappings, and the can of democratic reform is kicked down the road to be dealt with another day.

Trump’s incendiary populism cannot be easily harnessed by the backbenchers enjoying hegemonic control of U.S. policy. Trump has managed to stump establishment politicians of all stripes, including powerful rivals in and out of his own party. To the mainstream media, and the establishment on whose behalf it often speaks, “the Donald” is as an amusing sideshow so long as he loses, but it would not do for him to win.

Pat Caddell, a pollster and consultant who worked in the White House of President Jimmy Carter, recently observed that the American media is executing, on behalf of the political establishment, what amounts to a coup d’etat. This shocking and enlightening statement from a Washington insider serves to remind us that it doesn’t take tanks in public squares for the fate of a nation to be gamed by dark forces.

The major media outlets, paragons of political correctness, never dreamed that a person they daily accused of racism, sexism and xenophobia could be immune to their concerted hit job. Some are evincing regret that so much time was devoted to covering the amusing antics of Trump in the first place, not because the round-the-clock tabloid coverage didn’t sell soap, but because the attempt to discredit the man didn’t stick. Under the barrage of heavy media shelling, Trump’s campaign has not only survived, but thrived.

It does not require a “vast conspiracy” of the sort that Clinton once complained about for the U.S. political establishment to come together to produce a leader who affirms the status quo. The media, driven by its earnest nationalism and its desire for access, bolstered by righteous cliches and sentimental piety, helps take care of that. Mirroring the deep state that it echoes, trembles in sympathy with and uncannily speaks for, the moneyed media is neither right nor left, but centrist and elitist.

The pile-on proceeds apace. On Nov. 8, the U.S. will elect Clinton as president, following a script all but insisted upon, and deftly enforced, by powerful stakeholders. The media will celebrate the people’s choice, a female president, and that is well and good except for the fact that the female in question, is, to borrow a term bandied about in the last Clinton-Trump debate, a puppet of America’s ruling class.

Philip J. Cunningham is a media researcher and consultant.

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