Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in southwest Ohio.

After President Trump’s victory in 2016, four years of partisan allegations and investigations eroded many Americans’ trust in democracy by attributing Trump’s win to Russian interference. That’s why it’s understandable that Trump, in defeat — along with millions of his supporters — is loath to give up examining election fraud after only a month.

It is fascinating to witness the mainstream media’s newfound contempt for anyone questioning election integrity. How refreshing it would have been to read stories applying to others the leeway granted to reporters to call Trump a liar: “House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff on Wednesday repeated the debunked claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia,” or “House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler said Sunday, without evidence, that Trump might ‘rig’ the 2020 election.” Maybe someday.

Also making surrender tough for Trump is how tantalizingly close he came to reelection. In Georgia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Trump trails president-elect Joe Biden by a combined margin of about 115,000 votes, a fraction of a percent of the 158 million votes cast nationwide.

Nevertheless, four years ago — in the context of a similarly polarized nation grappling with questions about election integrity — President Barack Obama welcomed Trump to the White House and played gracious host for a man he most assuredly despised. Hillary Clinton, despite winning the popular vote, quickly conceded and attended Trump’s inauguration in a show of support for the peaceful transfer of power.

So far, Trump has ignored the most important duty remaining to him, focusing instead on collecting money — more than $200 million since Nov. 3 — with fundraising appeals alleging election fraud. The election probes and fundraising can continue for months or years, but in the meantime, the president and first lady Melania Trump must pause long enough to host Biden and his wife, Jill, for a White House visit, escort them to the inauguration ceremony on Jan. 20 and smile stoically as Biden is sworn in.

Vanquished participants in some of the most bitter presidential contests have performed this no doubt unpleasant duty, in part because it’s the classy thing to do, and in part because it sends a crucial signal to the world that in the United States, the transfer of power always happens willingly, without coups or inciting violence. Failing to publicly reinforce that message should earn Trump the scorn of all Americans.

The Post reported last week that only 27 of 249 Republicans in Congress had publicly acknowledged Biden’s victory. The most conservative House firebrands, with an eye on Trump’s base, are urging the president to fight on. But Republicans — particularly those with presidential aspirations — should recognize that Trump’s base need not be feared. Instead, they should acknowledge Biden’s victory while extolling Trump’s history-making role as a maverick disrupter — a mantle they should then claim for themselves. Slowly but surely, Trump’s base will begin to accept the reality that while their leader’s time has passed, the movement he ignited remains potent.

I’ve often been critical of Trump, pointing out that he’s a political pioneer of the Narcissistic Age, and criticizing his bluster, self-aggrandizement and insults. But for most of his presidency, I’ve been among his defenders, especially pushing back against the view that his rural base is a collection of racist, ignorant rubes. If there’s a list being kept, as some have disturbingly suggested, of those who should suffer retribution for enabling Trump, I would hope to be on it.

For me, the best parts of Trump were his fearlessness in tackling big, controversial initiatives against fierce opposition; his disdain for political correctness, which crushes speech and thought; and his willingness to confront the glaring double standards of the liberal media establishment — criticism that was met with ferocious retribution. The Trumpian embellishments — “lies,” many insist — that so consume his critics are part of his showbiz instincts, less threatening than amusing for anyone who isn’t naive enough to expect sincerity in politics. To conservatives, far more frightening are the coming hard-left influences on Biden as president. It’s chilling to consider the edicts likely to be issued in the name of fighting covid-19.

But elections have consequences, and Trump’s time is over. While his contemporary adversaries will always revile him, his legacy in the annals of history will be enhanced or diminished by how he exits — on the steps of a Marine helicopter with a wave to his successor, or slinking out of town at midnight, whining about the unfairness of it all. He would be wise to make a call soon to see what day works best for the Bidens to drop by.

Post Senior Producer Kate Woodsome talks to Americans who voted for Trump, or simply don't feel like denouncing him, about why they feel wrongly scorned. (The Washington Post)

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