I have known both conservatives and liberals who believe that a relative few people control much of what happens in the world, and they usually believe this is largely clandestine. I am not referring to those who believe in an Illuminati, though sometimes they come a lot closer than they would likely admit. At the moment I read and hear far more liberals saying these things, beginning with “the 1%” and “corporate interests,” but that may simply be because I largely work with liberals, while my conservative associations are largely voluntary and a decidedly non-paranoid lot, even at mild levels. It does get weird hearing them talk about Donald Trump and “the government” doing many secret things while they distract us with news about investigations – as if there suddenly is a Deep State after all and it supports Trump, who has devised all these investigations of himself as distractions. If you put it that baldly to them (which I sometimes do, just because I still take the bait), they recoil and say that this isn’t what they meant really, then clarify their earlier statements by saying exactly that, though with different words that don’t sound so bad. Social workers, psychiatrists, and various advocates, mostly. Perhaps not representative. When conservatives go down this road it is usually centered around a few possibilities – a large portion of the federal government, especially select agencies; major journalism figures and the string-pullers behind them, in cahoots with academia; or the “elites” in general. That seems to be a larger group, more dispersed, a 5% of the country who are semi-secretly ruling us rather than a 1%.
And of course from many different sides there are those who go straight to believing it’s the Jews, who seem to be a crossing-street with every other type of paranoia.
As with full paranoia, depression, anxiety, and other states of mind, the general mildly paranoid belief precedes all the specific knowledge. They have long had the impression of the few working underhandedly with great skill to dupe the public at large, and this impression perseveres even when new facts go against it. Even contradictory information is reshaped to support the narrative. I now think of it as a personality trait, rather than an intellectual one. People just think that’s how the world works. Yet power is widely distributed in America. Yes, rich people are sometimes able to influence legislation, regulations, or policy to help them become richer. That’s not a good thing, and as such rent-seeking does diminish the efficiency of the economy we all live in it does affect us. Also, governments both local and national do prevent us from doing a few things and compel us to do others. Yet we still travel where we want, build houses we like, choose our hobbies, eat different foods, change jobs, have children or not. Government is mostly about taking money from us and doing stuff it claims is good for all of us. Which it is, sometimes. It’s the few places it actually does touch strongly on individual decisions, such as abortion or buying guns, that everyone sits up and takes notice. We get strongly irritated at the rest, especially if we think we shouldn’t be paying for any of it, never mind an increase, but we mostly just grouse and work around it. When rich people try and change the government they are much less successful than they would like to be, and much less than our fears of them would success. Yes, they do give money, sometimes secretly and illegally, and this is deeply offensive. On the other hand, they have to keep giving that much next year and the year after, so perhaps they have not the awesome power we attribute to them.
There is power to do what you want, and power over others to make them do what you want, and many shades in between of influence and permissions. When I was very liberal I believed that a very few evil conservatives were running all sorts of stuff and were forever on the brink of establishing fascist control over us – but fortunately, good free-spirited and well-meaning socialist types were breaking through that all over the late 60s and good times were coming.