Can a Spy Topple a President?

If Trump is to be deposed, it would be better if it was carried out by the law and ordinary citizens rather than by the intrusion of the FBI into politics.

Since he was elected as president of the United States, Donald Trump has not been lacking in opportunities to confirm the worst fears his candidacy originally inspired. Racist, misogynist and a megalomaniac during the election campaign, he has confirmed each of these character traits since taking office. The beginning of his presidency has added nepotism, incompetence, collusion with the business community and a crass indifference to the state of the environment to this list.

In short, Trump already deserves to be on the list of foes for all those who do not confuse democracy with reactionary populism. In this respect, the theories about his possible downfall are rather heartening. In contrast to the France of the Fifth Republic, the United States has institutionalized independent and efficient counterpowers. When the authorities refused to issue visas based on religious grounds (for Muslims), the legal system succeeded in canceling out the worst effects of the democracy of opinion. Despite polls showing support for the policy, the Constitution and American judges can be counted on to moderate malicious desires, even when they are in the majority.

However, the scenario is complicated when you look at where the most serious threats currently facing Trump are coming from. Left groggy by its defeat, and discredited by many compromises, the Democratic Party seems to have delegated the responsibility to continue the fight to the former director of the FBI. During his appearance before the Senate committee, James Comey issued a final formal accusation against the new president. By accusing Trump of applying pressure to drop the investigation into collusion with Russia by one of his former advisers, Comey has opened a Pandora’s Box. In a geopolitical atmosphere which feels increasingly like the Cold War, this resembles contact with the enemy. It is unheard of that such an accusation should focus on the White House itself.

However, just like the CIA, which doesn’t have a great relationship with the new president either, the FBI doesn’t belong to what is commonly known as the “counterpowers.” It does, however, form part of what certain researchers call “the deep state,” a bureaucratic, financial or (in this case) security organization which outlives each change of power. Deep state theorists often fall into conspiracy theories, according to which, in a democracy, the power is never where it pretends to be. The metaphor of the “deep” suggests that what happens on the surface, which the traditional media then talks about, is nothing more than an act which is designed to distract the masses.

The fact remains that, all ideas of conspiracies put aside, it is difficult to argue that the different administrative bodies of a nation each have their own agendas and protect their interests, which do not magically coincide with those of ordinary citizens. It is truer still that secrets are naturally a part of intelligence agencies. When the former director of the FBI breaks the code of silence, it is not certain that he does so exclusively to defend democracy.

The fact that this affair connects to Russia makes it even more ambiguous. A former officer of the KGB, Putin embodies (to the point of caricature) the deep state raised to the surface. Whether he has held the title of president for the entire time or not, he has governed Russia since 2000 and will continue to do so indefinitely. Between such a person, the FBI and the American president, this game has at least three players. Despite the legitimate joy of seeing Trump in difficulty, we will never be certain that we have completely understood everything about the way that this affair has unfolded.

That is why we must hope, however respectable he may be, that Comey does not remain Trump’s principal political adversary. Through his ill-tempered tweets, the president of the United States will not hesitate to suggest that he is the victim of a plot by the secret services against him personally and, consequently, against the people. In a choice between populism and the deep state, democracy loses every time. If this Trump interlude is to be shut down prematurely, it would be better if it could come about because the right felt that it was their duty, and that it came about through the mobilization of ordinary citizens, rather than as a result of the intrusion of the FBI into public life.

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