Skip to main content

US politics

America’s dangerous “deep state” paranoia

Trump supporters on January 6, 2021. Spencer Platt/Getty

If Donald Trump has committed a crime, says Tim Alberta in The Atlantic, he should of course be “subject to the same treatment as any other alleged criminal”. Why, then, did I feel so “nauseous” watching FBI agents raid the former president’s Mar-a-Lago estate? It’s because America is “tracking toward a scale of political violence not seen since the Civil War”. Spend any time with the American right – at gun shows, churches, Trump rallies, wherever – and the “doomsday prophesying is ubiquitous”. These people really, truly believe that the “deep state” is set on sabotaging Trump’s political ambitions. It started with the FBI supposedly letting Hillary Clinton off the hook; then it was the Russia investigation, the two impeachments, the “stolen” election. Many think violence is “unavoidable” – and that the trigger will be Democrats “weaponising agencies of the state”.

Trump and other prominent Republicans are recklessly fueling this fire. “If they can do it to a former president,” tweeted one congressional GOP group yesterday, “imagine what they can do to you.” Kevin McCarthy, the House Republican leader, has “all but promised retaliation” against the Justice Department. If Trump retakes the presidency in 2024, he will see victory as “a mandate to prosecute his opponents”. It feels lazy to speculate about “1860s-style secession and civil war”. But it’s hard to see how any of this gets better – and easy to see “how it gets much, much worse”.