Our nation, the world's oldest democracy, stands at the doorway of a dictatorship that seemed unimaginable before Donald J. Trump attained the presidency.
In his desperation to retain the office he fairly won four years ago and fairly lost on Nov. 3, Trump has bared the mind and menace of a tyrant. There is no better word for his conduct although the word "traitor" also comes to mind.
Since the Constitution narrowly defines treason as "levying war" against the United States or in "adhering to their enemies," Trump's machinations might not qualify as that crime, which is punishable by death.
But they are in every sense the moral equivalent. He swore to "preserve, protect and defend" the Constitution" that he is now obsessed with subverting.
No losing candidate, let alone an incumbent president, ever attempted that.
A distant comparison might be had only to the contested election of 1876, when Congress resolved disputed vote totals in Florida and two other states in favor of Republican Rutherford B. Hayes, who was known thereafter as "his fraudulency."
There is no question now, however, over the popular vote outcome in any state
But Trump, having lost a torrent of lawsuits that were as baseless as his claim to have won the election, is now trying to bully Republican state legislators in Michigan and Pennsylvania to override the votes of their citizens.
The people of those states favored former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. by a combined winning margin six times larger than Trump achieved in 2016, when no one questioned the legitimacy of his victory.
Discarding popular votes, whatever the pretext, is what dictators do. It is what tyrants do.
It bears remembering, however, that dictators cannot act on their own.
They depend upon accomplices.
Trump plainly hopes to terrorize enough Republican legislators into becoming his accomplices so as to block the certification of electors from Michigan and Pennsylvania, which would leave Biden with the minimum of 270 electoral votes.
Thereafter, Trump would hunt for another state to subvert or for Biden electors he could bully or bribe. In one scenario, the election would be forced into the House of Representatives, where the state delegations would each have one vote. Republicans control 26 of the 50. Wisconsin, where Trump is poised to sue for a recount, is probably next in line.
Many people, including former President Barack Obama, doubt that Trump can pull it off.
Indeed, it would seem far-fetched if it weren't for Trump's proven success in making cowards and followers of other elected Republicans who fear his influence over the party's rank-and-file, the decisive force in its primary elections. In our current hour of dread, only a very few, including Sens. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse, have spoken against him.
Mark Sanford, the former South Carolina congressman who provoked the dictator's wrath, is living evidence of its reach.
It was not a good sign when the Republican leaders of the Michigan Legislature agreed to present themselves to Trump at the White House only days after saying they would not tamper with their state's electors.
Even if he fails, as he should, Trump has accomplished another evil that no predecessor ever attempted. He has brainwashed a substantial minority of Americans into denying the legitimacy of Biden's election and his presidency.
Everyone who might have a hand in what Trump is trying to do to the United States should understand that history is as harsh on accomplices as on the tyrants they serve. And so are the voters they betray, provided they retain the right to vote.
That right is the indispensable foundation of any republic, any democracy. That is what is at stake in the United States at this moment.
If Trump prevails, history will record that our democracy lasted barely 230 years, destroyed in the end by a man who lost the election by nearly 6 million popular votes.
And if that's not treason, what is?(c)2020 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC