INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES teach their officers how to respond in case of exposure: Admit nothing, deny everything, make counter-accusations. While perhaps good advice in the amoral context of espionage, these are not, or should not be, words to live by for those who take part in democratic politics. Yet when Republican Donald Trump was outed as a serial abuser of women, first by his own words and then by testimony from a lengthening list of alleged victims, he responded with tactics worthy of the Russian ex-KGB man Vladimir Putin, whose leadership he so admires. Mr. Trump branded the women liars and blamed “the establishment and their media enablers” for the purported smear.
One reason to believe the charges is Mr. Trump’s own repugnant boast, captured on videotape in 2005 and first reported a week ago by The Post’s David A. Fahrenthold, about how he likes to “grab” women by their private parts and force himself on them, as an exercise of his “star” power. Lacking the decency to take responsibility for this, beyond a thin layer of apology in a thick sandwich of excuse-making, Mr. Trump went on to compound verbally the insult he already inflicted on his victims, through his conduct, with predictable attacks on their veracity, motives and, of course, appearance. Thus did the GOP nominee further confirm his unfitness for the White House, as well as the cravenness of those elected leaders in his party who continue to endorse him.
And then Mr. Trump, speaking Thursday in West Palm Beach, Fla., escalated: Beyond merely denying the truth of the allegations about his treatment of women, he recast them as evidence that U.S. democracy itself is no longer legitimate. Follow the logic here, if you can: The country is under the control of a conspiracy, involving not just his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, and the media, but also the entire political “establishment,” Republicans included, in league with unnamed international banks, whose goal is to enrich themselves by controlling “the central base of world political power . . . right here in America” and imposing “radical globalization and the disenfranchisement of working people.” Mr. Trump, and the “movement” he heads, are all that stand in the way of this evil cabal. This election, therefore, is no ordinary political contest but “a crossroads in the history of our civilization that will determine whether or not we the people reclaim control over our government.” Ergo, the cabal will destroy Mr. Trump by “slander” — unless the people stand up and resist “a small handful of global special interests rigging the system.”
This language — which he read from a prepared text fed into a teleprompter — is inflammatory beyond any demagoguery Mr. Trump had offered previously. Coupled with his repeated warnings, echoed by his followers, that the Democrats may be cooking up Election Day fraud, the speech seems to prepare the ground for resistance in the increasingly likely event that things don’t go his way Nov. 8. Indeed, anyone who agrees that the alternative to a Trump victory is civilizational disaster, the fruit of a “sinister deal,” as Mr. Trump put it in another Florida speech, would feel obligated to deny the legitimacy of a Clinton victory, should it occur. Trump-for-President is not a campaign to redeem American democracy or even to “take it back,” as Mr. Trump puts it; it has morphed into a campaign of destabilization.
Mr. Trump’s words seek to make accomplices of his listeners. Anyone who challenges the cabal “is deemed a sexist, a racist, a xenophobe and morally deformed,” he told the West Palm Beach audience. “They will attack you, they will slander you, they will seek to destroy your career and your family, they will seek to destroy everything about you, including your reputation.” As if the assembled Trumpkins were just as guilty as he of all those alleged sins.
A greater measure of accountability belongs to the men and women who purport to lead the GOP faithful, and have, with a few honorable exceptions, so manifestly failed the moral test Mr. Trump’s candidacy poses. We are well past the point of urging these politicians to repudiate Mr. Trump for the good of the country, their party and themselves. Frankly, it’s hard to keep track of where some of them stand on that question: Several prominent Republicans, including two U.S. senators, John Thune of South Dakota and Deb Fischer of Nebraska, called on Mr. Trump to resign his candidacy after the 2005 recording became public — then crawled back into the fold, under pressure from the pro-Trump Republican rank and file.
Still, it is not too late even for these GOP politicians to repudiate Mr. Trump’s conspiratorial view of the American political process. They should at least find the decency, and the patriotism, to declare that everyone must respect the results on Nov. 8 — and pursue any protests or disputes through legal channels, not in the streets. Even if Republicans can’t bring themselves to part ways politically with Mr. Trump, they can refuse to cooperate in the trashing of our public discourse and essential civic traditions. Surely that is not too much to ask.