This is the anatomy of a smear.

From the perspective of 70 years on, it can seem mystifying how America came to be gripped by McCarthyite hysteria. How could Joe McCarthy and his fellow “red hunters” (including Trump mentor Roy Cohn) blacklist so many individuals based on little more than rumor and hearsay, half-truths and outright lies?

If you want to see a real-time example of how McCarthyism operates, look no further than the attempts by President Trump and his henchmen to malign the heroic whistleblower who, at real risk to himself, revealed the president’s attempts to employ U.S. military aid to blackmail Ukraine into incriminating former vice president Joe Biden and exonerating Russia on charges of hacking the 2016 election.

By now the identity of the whistleblower shouldn’t matter, given that everything this individual said has been verified by administration officials testifying under oath. Even Trump’s handpicked ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, just admitted that Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine to help his campaign. Given that Sondland donated $1 million to the Trump inaugural committee, he can hardly be accused of being a Never Trumper, even if lickspittle Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is gamely trying to suggest otherwise. But precisely because the evidence against Trump is so irrefutable, the president and his partisans feel compelled to smear his accusers. It’s the only play they have left.

Thus, Trump keeps demanding: “Where’s the Whistleblower?” On Tuesday, the president nodded approvingly as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is locked in a sycophancy contest with Graham, demanded that the media “do your job and print his name.” Disclosing the name would be an apparent violation of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. But legalities do not concern a president who talks like a mobster. (Trump said that fired ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things,” which she understandably interpreted as a threat.)

Enter Real Clear Investigations, a website funded by conservative donors. It ran an article naming the alleged whistleblower as a CIA officer who used to work at the White House. I won’t repeat the name here, or link to the article, because I have no idea if the identification is accurate — and, even if it is, I wouldn’t want to endanger this brave truth-teller.

But, of course, no such scruples stopped Russia’s state-owned media or Breitbart, the far-right website once run by Trump’s former campaign chief executive, Stephen K. Bannon, from picking up the story. And no scruples stopped Donald Trump Jr. from retweeting the Breitbart article on Wednesday. Its headline proclaimed that the “Alleged ‘Whistleblower’ . . . Worked Closely with Anti-Trump Dossier Hoaxer.” “Because of course he did!!!” Junior sneered.

Huh? See if you can follow Breitbart’s chain of illogic: It writes that the person alleged to be the whistleblower “interfaced about Ukraine with individuals who played key roles in facilitating the infamous anti-Trump dossier” written by former British intelligence operative Christopher Steele. “One of those individuals,” the article proclaims, was “then-Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland.”

It then asserts that Nuland, a career Foreign Service officer, received some of Steele’s reports during her time in government. This is apparently true, insofar as Steele provided “one of dozens of data streams from government and non-government sources we used to understand events,” a former State Department official told The Post. But that doesn’t mean that Nuland did anything wrong or that she had anything to do with the FBI’s well-justified decision to investigate the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia. Contrary to right-wing conspiracy theories, that investigation was not triggered by the Steele dossier — and the dossier has not been shown to be a “hoax.” That Nuland may have “interfaced” with the alleged whistleblower was entirely innocuous.

Yet somehow Breitbart and Real Clear Investigations have taken a few innocent facts, added a lot of innuendo and insinuation, and, voilà, they have created the impression that the whistleblower was part of a “deep state” anti-Trump conspiracy.

What the Trump defenders refuse to understand is that career civil servants work for presidents of both parties. CIA officers, just like Foreign Service officers and military officers, pride themselves on being apolitical.

But the pro-Trump fanatics imagine that any civil servant who has come forward with incriminating information about the president, no matter how accurate, must be acting out of partisan motives. So now the goon squad is attempting to defame and intimidate a CIA officer, who may or may not be the whistleblower, along with all of Trump’s public accusers. This is modern-day McCarthyism in action.

Actually, it may be even worse, because at least there really was a Soviet intelligence apparatus in America, even if McCarthy didn’t uncover its operations. The deep state, by contrast, is entirely a figment of Trump’s twisted imagination.

Read more: