Trump’s most dan­ger­ous lie

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists

Don­ald Trump has made many false state­ments dur­ing this cam­paign. But the most de­spi­ca­ble — and dan­ger­ous — are his rants al­leg­ing a “rigged” elec­tion.

He’s not just at­tack­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton or the Democrats; he’s car-bomb­ing the en­tire po­lit­i­cal sys­tem. “This whole thing is one big fix,” Trump said in Greens­boro, North Carolina. “It’s one big, ugly lie.”

The man who brags that he will “make Amer­i­can great again” is di­min­ish­ing the na­tion’s great­est virtue. He’s re­nounc­ing the abid­ing be­lief, shared by par­ti­sans of all stripes for more than 225 years, that the Amer­i­can sys­tem is es­sen­tially fair, that the losers will ac­cept the rule of the win­ners, that the peace­ful trans­fer of power forms the heart of a sta­ble democ­racy.

In 1974, Richard Nixon re­signed and no sol­diers mo­bi­lized. In 2000, Al Gore won the pop­u­lar vote but gra­ciously ac­cepted de­feat. Only once has the con­sen­sus bro­ken down: when Abra­ham Lin­coln’s vic­tory in 1860 led to the Civil War.

We are far from such a cri­sis to­day, but the stench of vi­o­lence hangs over Trump ral­lies. In Green Bay, Wis­con­sin, Sher­iff David Clarke of Mil­wau­kee County shouted, “It is pitch­fork and torches time in Amer­ica. We are war­riors.”

Just blus­ter per­haps, but words have con­se­quences, and Trump is clearly pre­par­ing an in­sid­i­ous post-elec­tion mes­sage: We were robbed. Hil­lary Clin­ton is not a le­git­i­mate pres­i­dent.

And he’s hav­ing an im­pact. A Pew Re­search Cen­ter poll found that only 38 per­cent of all Trump back­ers think their vote will be counted ac­cu­rately.

No one should be sur­prised. Af­ter all, Trump is the fa­ther of the birther move­ment, which chal­lenged the le­git­i­macy of Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency. But he was a fringe player then. Now he’s the nom­i­nee of a ma­jor party, and his words de­mand greater scru­tiny.

Take Trump’s claim that “there is large-scale voter fraud hap­pen­ing on and be­fore Elec­tion Day.” To quote his own words: That is “one big, ugly lie.”

As the Shoren­stein Cen­ter at Har­vard re­ported re­cently, “Mul­ti­ple stud­ies us­ing dif­fer­ent method­olo­gies have found voter fraud oc­curs so rarely that it could not have an im­pact on re­sults.”

But Trump has never been de­terred by the facts, and he’s re­dou­bled his ac­cu­sa­tions, en­cour­ag­ing sup­port­ers in Al­toona, Penn­syl­va­nia, to be­come vig­i­lantes and “go down to cer­tain ar­eas and watch and study to make sure other peo­ple don’t come in and vote five times.”

Other peo­ple. Cer­tain ar­eas. The code words are barely con­cealed. “Ev­ery­body knows what I’m talk­ing about,” he added at a rally in WilkesBarre, Penn­syl­va­nia. Yes, we do. We know ex­actly what he’s talk­ing about: Black vot­ers. Black precincts.

Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s de­nun­ci­a­tion of a Mex­i­can-Amer­i­can judge a “text­book def­i­ni­tion of a racist com­ment.” This is an­other text­book ex­am­ple.

Of course Trump in­cludes the me­dia as part of the “global power struc­ture” that is out to get him. But he was thrilled to ac­cept free TV time worth more than $2 bil­lion dur­ing the pri­maries. He’s only com­plain­ing now that he’s in dan­ger of los­ing.

For­tu­nately, a few sane Repub­li­cans re­ject Trump’s claims of a “rigged” elec­tion. “There is no ev­i­dence be­hind any of this,” ad­mit­ted Marco Ru­bio, who is run­ning for re­elec­tion to the Se­nate. “He should stop say­ing that.” Rep. Tom Cole tells the Wash­ing­ton Post: “I just don’t be­lieve there is any risk of mas­sive voter fraud in the elec­tions.”

Jon Husted, Ohio’s sec­re­tary of state, called Trump’s tirades “ir­re­spon­si­ble” on ABC, adding: “Our elec­tion sys­tem is one of the bedrocks of Amer­i­can democ­racy. We should not ques­tion it, or the le­git­i­macy of it.”

Trump is not mak­ing Amer­ica great again. He’s do­ing the ex­act op­po­site. As Pres­i­dent Obama said, “One way of weak­en­ing Amer­ica and mak­ing it less great is if you start be­tray­ing those ba­sic Amer­i­can tra­di­tions.”

Even if Trump loses, the dam­age he’s in­flict­ing will last far past Elec­tion Day.

Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­

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