Opinion

Trump nation has carried the notion of a 'deep state' into its fever swamp of paranoia: Neil Macdonald

There was once a time when the question of who to believe — the former FBI director with a long history of principled stances or the man who tried to convince America that Obama was a secret Muslim — would have been straightforward. No longer.

Trumpers have redefined the term to mean any government functionary who resists their frustrated leader

There was once a time when the question of whom to believe — the former FBI director with a long history of principled stances or the man who tried to convince the country that Obama was a secret Muslim — would have been straightforward. No longer. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Like "Comical Ali," the nickname given to Saddam Hussein's hilarious information minister — the guy who kept insisting American troops were being humiliated, massacred and chased out of Iraq even as they rolled into Baghdad — deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke directly to her boss's alternate-universe base this week.

"I can definitively say the president is not a liar," Sanders said.

"It's frankly insulting that the question would be asked."

This is the woman who speaks for a president who, during his presidential run, consistently referred to Republican Senator Ted Cruz as "lying Ted Cruz" while casually linking Cruz's father to Lee Harvey Oswald.

It was rich. My goodness, it was rich. But the legions of Trump nation — reeling like leaderless and confused Orcs — had to be told something.

Former FBI director James Comey, while under oath, accused the president of lying. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

They had just watched a former director of the FBI, a G-man right out of central casting, as Trump would say, explicitly call their leader and hero a liar, under oath and on national television.

Trump nation has a preternatural love and respect for clean-cut, white authority figures like James Comey. His accusations were surely, for them, hard to hear.

After all, Comey was the fellow who, as acting attorney general in 2004, defied the George W. Bush administration over its illegal warrantless wiretapping operation. (He threatened to resign, and Bush backed down.)

This was the same James Comey who publicly reopened an investigation into how Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton had handled classified emails, only days before she lost the 2016 election, possibly costing her that election. A man who was praised at the time as having "guts" by then candidate Trump.

Reassuring Trump nation

So, after Comey's politely devastating testimony before the Senate intelligence committee this week, Trumpians were hurting. They needed a little reassurance.

Up stepped the hired lipslingers.

Huckabee Sanders, at the White House, huffed at the very notion of Trump — an accomplished liar — being called a liar. The nerve.

On CNN, Trump confidant, former campaign manager and bullyboy Cory Lewandowski said Comey had only told the truth when he said that Trump was not, in the weeks after he assumed office, under personal investigation for colluding with Russian efforts to influence the U.S. election. Everything else, though, was a lie.

U.S. president's personal lawyer Marc Kasowitz delivers statement to media following testimony of former FBI director 5:59

Trump's personal lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, spoke gravely about Comey's treasonous decision to "unilaterally and surreptitiously" release "privileged communications with the president" to the media.

(This was a reference to Comey telling reporters, through an intermediary, that the president had leaned on him to abandon a politically embarrassing investigation, and, furthermore, had done so after asking everyone else, including Comey's boss Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States, to leave the room.)

And, of course, Trump himself jumped in via Twitter on Friday, declaring: "WOW, Comey is a leaker!"

But the fellow who spoke most directly to the beating heart of Trump nation was an unprepossessing, unknown man by the name of Chris Farrell.

Farrell styles himself the "director of investigations" for an organization called Judicial Watch, which dedicates itself to uncovering secret government wrongdoing, especially if it was perpetrated by Hillary Clinton. Judicial Watch gets a lot of ice time in conservative circles; Fox News Channel regards it as especially authoritative.

Eight months after she lost to Trump and disappeared from public life, Judicial Watch continues to fill reporters' email inboxes with shocking new revelations about Clinton. The woman has apparently committed capital crimes.

But back to Comey.

America's 'deep state' 

Farrell, who talks about Judicial Watch's "investigative counsels" and "special agents," patiently explained America's "deep state" to his Trumpian YouTube audience.

"Long-term leftist operatives" within government are dedicated to a covert overthrow of the democratically elected president, he warned: "They are swamp creatures, OK? They are creatures from the black lagoon."

It's an interesting appropriation of the term "deep state," which was coined by author John Le Carré to describe invisible bureaucratic power.

Le Carré, a former spy, theorizes, probably accurately, a vast secret world of unaccountable bureaucrats devoted above all else to perpetuating the status quo, including cozy relationships with nasty foreign regimes and unsavoury but profitable business-like arms sales.

Trumpers, though, have redefined it to mean any government functionary who resists their frustrated swamp-drainer-in-chief. Former acting attorney general Sally Yates, whom Trump fired for refusing to implement his entry ban on Muslims on the grounds that it is unconstitutional — a conclusion since reached by just about every federal judge who's considered it — is a Deep Stater. As are the judges. And Comey might possibly be the deep state's grand imperial wizard.

The FBI, warned Farrell, contains nests of corruption. The U.S. Justice Department, he declared, is the "department of coverups."

"What you may see," he predicted, "is the appointment of another special prosecutor to investigate James Comey."

Farrell is worth paying attention to. Trump's lawyer said as much Thursday when he suggested the "appropriate authorities" would determine whether to investigate Comey's leaks.

Former FBI director explains why he believes he was fired and why he felt the need to document his conversations with U.S. President Donald Trump 1:34

Now, there was a time when this week's drama would have been seen as simple: do you take the word of an FBI director fired for refusing to abandon an investigation, a man who has proven a pain to both Democrats and Republicans and who once challenged a lawbreaking president? Or the word of a man who spent years trying to convince Americans that Barack Obama was foreign born, probably an African Muslim and that his Hawaiian birth certificate was a government-aided fraud?

The answer was once self-evident. No longer.

Personally, I've always been disinclined to trust authority. And I actually do believe there is a deep state.

But Trump nation, waving torches, has carried the notion into its fever swamp of paranoia.

The state itself is the enemy, travelling in black helicopters, overlooking the crimes of politicians it can control. Donald Trump, meanwhile, is Jason Bourne, principled, wronged by evil men and willing to use violence only reluctantly, as a last resort.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

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