On the afternoon of July 16, 1973, I was watching the Watergate hearings and learned that Richard Nixon had routinely taped his conversations in the Oval Office. In the four decades since then, I cannot recall any other day that compares with the political earthquake of the afternoon of Jan. 10, 2017. CNN broke the news that both Donald Trump and Barack Obama had learned from U.S. intelligence agencies last week that a private investigator was reporting Russian sources claimed to have deeply compromising information about Donald Trump’s finances and personal behaviour. Then Buzzfeed published the full 35-page report that prompted the intelligence briefing, a compilation of memos said to be written by a former British intelligence agent now running a private agency. The agency allegedly had been hired originally by Trump’s Republican adversaries to dig up information on him. Then the Clinton campaign had used the agency for the same purpose. The rumours had been flying all through the months leading up to the election, fuelled by Trump’s kind words for Vladimir Putin and reports of his Russian business dealings. (Trump says he has none; some of his adversaries say they’re extensive). But the U.S. media seemed far more obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s emails, and then with FBI director James Comey’s late intervention in the election with his announcement that he was again looking into those emails. True or just truthy? In this post-truth era, it was hard to tell if this was even truthy, let alone true. The website Lawfare asked its readers to take a deep breath and withhold judgment for the time being, and offered good reasons for doing so. The charges have not, after all, been corroborated. But Lawfare also noted that it has had the same document for a couple of weeks, and others have known about it for much longer. That, in turn, implies that a small group of politicians, bureaucrats or others — what Glenn Greenwald calls the “deep state” — have been engaged in their own campaign against Trump. True or not, the charges have enormous implications for U.S. and world politics for at least the next four years. First, let’s suppose they’re false. That means someone concocted bogus charges against Trump, including salacious and shocking claims. But speaking as a novelist, the charges seem too tacky, too plotty. They appeal to the confirmation bias of Trump’s supporters and enemies alike: His supporters will dismiss them as bogus, and his enemies will welcome them as proof — even without confirmation. Second, let’s suppose the charges are all true and solidly documented. (The CIA believed them serious enough to include them in briefings last week to Obama and Trump.) Putin comes off as Lenin’s revenge, the guy who hacked America and got away with it. Far from being a villain, he’ll be a hero to billions around the world. But Trump himself will look like a stooge. His cabinet nominees will have some serious thinking to do. Do they dance with the guy who brought them, or do they race for the exit and call a cab? Either way, Americans and people around the world will feel confused and mistrustful of the media and their governments. It will be far easier to dwell in one’s own congenial fantasy world than to determine the facts around any controversial issue. Under those conditions, running a democratic country becomes impossible. The Americans themselves will have to sort out some big problems. First, the agencies they have lavishly funded, and that have run their lives in countless ways since 1945, appear to be acting on their own, not at the command of their democratically elected leaders. The rot likely goes back all the way to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who tolerated J. Edgar Hoover because his FBI turned up such juicy information about FDR’s enemies. FDR’s successor Harry Truman was then duped into creating the CIA, and things only got worse. So if the CIA, NSA, and other branches of the “deep state” are now in a battle with Donald Trump, as he has appeared to suggest, which side should American voters be on? How could they find and empower someone who could control such powerful agencies? And what should countries like Canada, which depend for their livelihoods on a stable and secure United States, do about this mess? Justin Trudeau has just shuffled his cabinet to improve his ability to deal with a legitimate, confident Trump presidency. But at this point, it’s not clear how legitimate or confident (or durable) that presidency will be. True or false, the allegations have left the United States a crippled giant. The U.S. recovered from Watergate, but it may not recover from Jan. 10, 2017.