The United States isn’t a banana republic. It is doing quite a convincing impression of one, however. On Monday night, the FBI raided Donald Trump’s residence in Mar-a-Lago, apparently looking for evidence that the 45th president, a spring chicken at seventy-six, had hidden official documents in contravention of the Presidential Records Act — an offense that could see him barred from returning to office. Legal scholars are by no means sure that anybody would be able to prove that Trump willfully withheld sensitive government records — after all, the FBI said that Hillary Clinton had been “extremely careless” with her emails as Secretary of State, then a State Department investigation declared her not guilty of deliberately mishandling evidence. Still, the authorities didn’t break into any of Clinton’s homes (not publicly, anyway), and so Monday’s raid looks a lot like what Trump says it is — an act of political intimidation you might expect from a tinpot dictatorship in the developing world; a desperate bid to find something — anything — that might prevent Trump running for the White House again in 2024.

Within a few hours, almost as if he knew it had been coming, Trump released a video that resembled nothing so much as a presidential campaign announcement. “We are a nation that has in many ways become a joke,” declares the Donald on film, as gloomy black-and-white images turn to vivid color. “But soon we will have greatness again.”

Perhaps the FBI knows something very damning about Trump that we don’t. If not, why would the Bureau, or possibly Attorney General Merrick Garland, do something that appears so neatly to validate the Trumpist refrain that the “Deep State” will stop at nothing to take down their hero? Why would Trump’s enemies give him a near-perfect launchpad opportunity?

Conspiracy theories sprout everywhere. One is that the FBI — led as it is by a Trump appointee, Christopher Wray — is at some level working with — not against — Trump in order to help absolve him in the public eye over his behavior in the aftermath of the November 2020 election. Another, slightly less far-fetched idea is that the Democrats are trying to goad the Donald into announcing his 2024 campaign before the fast-approaching midterm elections. That would be because the dreaded idea of a Trump comeback might mobilize Democratic voters in the coming months and help prevent a Republican “red wave” at the ballot in November.

What’s certain is the Republicans are itching to start counter-investigations into the Biden administration as soon as their party seizes control of Congress. Hours after the Trump raid, House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy declared: “When Republicans take back the House, we will conduct immediate oversight of this department, follow the facts, and leave no stone unturned. Attorney General Garland, preserve your documents and clear your calendar.”

Biden’s White House has gotten so bad that actual banana republics are looking down at us: President of El Salvador bashes US government over FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago. “The leader of El Salvador chided the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago, rhetorically asking what the United States would say if he did something similar.”