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Washington D.C.: A city under siege

By Paul Schwartzman, et al.
Washington D.C.: A city under siege
The Supreme Court is surrounded by security fencing on Jan. 12, a stark change since the Capitol breach. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Michael Robinson Chavez.

After 'Hamilton,' Leslie Odom Jr. just wanted to be himself, but then the role of Sam Cooke came calling

By Thomas Floyd
After 'Hamilton,' Leslie Odom Jr. just wanted to be himself, but then the role of Sam Cooke came calling

Tom Vilsack's nomination as agriculture secretary reopens old wounds for Black farmers

By Laura Reiley
Tom Vilsack's nomination as agriculture secretary reopens old wounds for Black farmers
Corey Lea, a beef and pork rancher in Murfreesboro, Tenn., who advocates for Black farmers, doesn't like the idea of Tom Vilsack again leading the Agriculture Department. MUST CREDIT: photo for The Washington Post by William DeShazer.

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

Don't file a paper 2020 federal tax return if you don't have to, warns IRS watchdog.

By michelle singletary
Don't file a paper 2020 federal tax return if you don't have to, warns IRS watchdog.

MICHELLE SINGLETARY COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, and thereafter

(For Singletary clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By MICHELLE SINGLETARY

(c) 2020, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON -- Their pleas are heart-wrenching.

People are in a panic that they haven't received either the first or second stimulus payment because their 2019 federal returns haven't been processed.

A former certified public accountant emailed me that her adult son mailed his federal paper return in October and still hasn't heard a word from the IRS on its status - or the $11,000 refund he and his wife are owed.

"There's nothing on the website that would give you some comfort that at least the return had been opened," said the New Jersey woman who helps her son with his tax returns. "I've spoken to four or five people at the IRS, and they said, 'Please don't file a duplicate tax return.' I think there are millions of others who are in the same predicament."

She's right.

The IRS received roughly 16 million paper individual returns last year. As of Dec. 25, the agency said it still had 6.9 million individual tax returns in the "processing pipeline" - which is over 40 percent. Interestingly, the IRS changed the language of its update from saying the returns were "unprocessed." I assume it was to give people some hope that there's movement on their returns.

The IRS said it is rerouting tax returns and taxpayer correspondence to locations where more staff is available. Other than responding to any requests for information, the IRS said there's nothing people can do.

"For refunds that could not be issued in 2020 because the tax return is being corrected, reviewed or awaiting correspondence from a taxpayer, the refund will be issued as a paper check in 2021 per our normal processes," the IRS said in an operations update. "Taxpayers are encouraged to continue to check 'Where's My Refund' for their personalized refund status."

Here's the bottom line for the upcoming 2021 tax season: Paper return backlogs are large and likely to grow, so anyone who can e-file should do so, said National Taxpayer Advocate Erin M. Collins. Taxpayer Advocate Service (taxpayeradvocate.irs.gov) is an independent organization within the IRS that helps taxpayers.

"There's the added challenge that the last filing season had to deal with because of covid," Collins said in an interview. "And in my opinion, I think it's going to overlap into the next filing season."

Don't just blame the IRS for the delays in processing returns, Collins said. The agency has had a roughly 20 percent reduction in its budget (adjusted for inflation) since fiscal year 2010, resulting in antiquated technology and inadequate staffing levels, Collins said in her annual report to Congress. Over the last 10 years, the IRS workforce has shrunk by about 20 percent.

The pandemic exacerbated the problems the IRS was already dealing with, Collins said.

IRS personnel who open and process tax returns and answer the toll-free telephone lines had to follow social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, which resulted in taxpayers' paper returns and mail sitting unopened in trailers for months. The herculean task of delivering two rounds of stimulus payments stretched IRS resources even further, Collins said.

With social distancing still in place, Collins is concerned whether the IRS will have enough workers who can process the paper backlog and the coming onslaught of mailed returns when the 2021 tax season opens, which should be soon. "If you're going to have a refund situation, I think it would be very beneficial this coming filing season to file electronically," she said.

It's not always a choice for people to file electronically.

There are more than 40 forms that still require a taxpayer to mail a paper return, Collins said in the annual report. "The IRS should expand its electronic filing capabilities to allow all taxpayers an e-filing option, regardless of the return or any associated schedules, documents, and attachments," she urged.

But if it's just a matter of habit or doubts about the security of electronic filing, this is the year to skip mailing your return.

"During the pandemic, it is more important than ever that taxpayers choose to file their returns electronically and not send them in by mail," the IRS said in a statement about the 2021 filing season. "It is also more important than ever that taxpayers choose direct deposit on their returns and provide up-to-date banking information for their refund."

On that last point, people who filed electronically over the last two years and had their refunds sent by direct deposit to their bank accounts had fewer issues with receiving a stimulus payment, Collins said. This is important to note since President-elect Joe Biden is putting together a $1.9 trillion relief package that would boost the second stimulus payments for Americans up to $2,000 per individual.

"I've been doing paper returns for a long time," the New Jersey reader told me. "I've learned my lesson. No paper returns anymore."

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Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/MichelleSingletary). Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

California recall effort is nothing like siege at U.S. Capitol

By ruben navarrette jr.
California recall effort is nothing like siege at U.S. Capitol

RUBEN NAVARRETTE COLUMN

FOR IMMEDIATE PRINT AND WEB RELEASE. Normally would advance for release Sunday, Jan. 17, 2021, and thereafter

(For Navarrette clients)

By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR.

(c) 2021, The Washington Post Writers Group

SAN DIEGO - You cover politics long enough as a journalist, and you think you've had a look at the worst of human nature. Then some party hack comes along who can't wait to exploit a national tragedy for the sake of political expediency, and you realize that - in terms of awfulness - you ain't seen nothing.

That's what happened in the Golden State this week when California Democratic Party Chairman Rusty Hicks located the bottom of the barrel - and scraped it. Hicks apparently couldn't bear the thought of letting the recent crisis at the U.S. Capitol go to waste. Instead, he co-opted this violent act of sedition that shocked the world and tried to use it to save the career of beleaguered California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

As if. A petition for a recall election is making the rounds in the state. It needs 1.5 million signatures by mid-March to put Newsom's fate on the ballot. It has more than 1 million.

The recall effort started last summer, in relative tranquility. While much of the country was on fire with Black Lives Matter protests, California seemed to be faring better than other states.

The majority of political tension in the state had to do with the lockdown of restaurants and other businesses over COVID-19. And that's what fueled the recall.

During the first three months, the effort was considered a joke by political observers. Many saw it as nothing more than sour grapes by disgruntled Republicans who never wanted Newsom as governor in the first place. They couldn't beat him at the ballot box when he ran in 1998, because the state GOP - which has an identity crisis and flips between moderation and extremism - is dreadful at picking its own candidates.

Now, no one is laughing. Especially not Democrats, who are finally taking seriously the possibility that Newsom could be recalled - even with an approval rating that tops 60%.

Enter Hicks, who said: "This recall effort, which really ought to be called 'the California coup,' is being led by right-wing conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, anti-vaxxers and groups who encourage violence on our democratic institutions."

Well, that about covers the waterfront. Trouble is, it's not true, not fair, and not good for the democratic process here in California. Unlike the attack on the U.S. Capitol, the FBI will probably not be involving itself with the recall election. It's perfectly legal. In fact, for more than a century, the California constitution has allowed voters to use the recall process to remove local or state officials before the end of their terms for any reason.

Newsom is in the fight of his life, but not because of partisanship or political extremists. It's because he was extremely incompetent, reckless, arrogant and tone-deaf in combating the real villain and a much more dangerous adversary: COVID-19.

Like most governors, Newsom totally underestimated and mismanaged the global pandemic. He took the virus lightly, and the nasty little sucker took him apart piece by piece. Newsom thought daily televised pep talks could substitute for cracking down on businesses that defied lockdown orders and following through on threats to withhold funds from counties that flouted public health laws. Then, in November, he himself was photographed flouting mask-wearing protocol while attending a birthday party at a posh Napa restaurant.

After closing eateries and other businesses, and putting the proprietors on bread lines, California's Marie Antoinette seemed to be telling the peasants: "Let them eat at the French Laundry."

Last but not least, there was Newsom's ambition. There is no California coup. But there is a California curse. It strikes down Golden State governors with their eye on the White House and causes them to make dumb decisions and exhibit poor judgment.

Ask former Gov. Gray Davis about that. He was pure politics, and he was recalled in 2003 because every decision seemed calculated as to what could get him to Washington.

There's something about being elected to lead a gargantuan state with 55 electoral votes (more than a tenth of the total of 538) that whispers: "You should be president."

With his affability and good looks, you had better believe that the 53-year-old Newsom heard that whisper loud and clear.

But the scoreboard is also clear: Newsom 0, COVID 1,000.

Actually, better make it 30,500. That's the number of Californians who have died after contracting the coronavirus.

Those folks are not here to sign the petition to recall Gavin Newsom. But, if they were, you can bet it would be an easy call.

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Navarrette's email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, "Navarrette Nation," is available through every podcast app.

We can't forget the Americans still desperate for work

By catherine rampell
We can't forget the Americans still desperate for work

CATHERINE RAMPELL COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, and thereafter

(For Rampell clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Catherine Rampell

In the midst of all that is happening -- a coup attempt, impeachment proceedings, mass deaths, other overwhelming events -- we cannot forget the millions of Americans who are still desperate for work.

Last week, once again, more Americans newly filed for unemployment benefits than was the case during the very worst period of the Great Recession. The numbers spiked from the previous week, possibly because of holiday-related filing delays or deteriorating economic conditions; when including "gig" workers and others covered by a temporary federal jobless benefits program, well over 1 million workers newly joined the unemployment rolls, according to the Labor Department.

These workers lost their livelihoods through no fault of their own. They are struggling to keep their families fed and housed. And to add insult to injury, about 1 million previously laid-off workers still have not received benefit payments they are owed because state offices are overwhelmed, backlogged and broken.

Congress belatedly passed another round of fiscal relief in late December that included a few months of expanded jobless benefits. The legislation is helpful but not sufficient, particularly since virus infection rates are still rising and the covid-19 vaccine rollout has been slow. Fortunately, with Democrats soon in unified control of government, there is an opportunity not only for additional, immediate relief but also bigger and longer-term fixes that could make this busted safety-net program one day function properly.

Democrats' first priority must be addressing the immediate crisis. That means doing all they can to prevent further layoffs -- such as by extending more aid to cash-strapped states and cities -- and making sure jobless benefits continue for those workers already displaced. Lawmakers must extend the three main emergency benefit programs already on the books: those that make benefits more generous (through a $300 weekly federal supplement), available for additional weeks, and accessible to expanded categories of workers, such as freelancers.

These programs are all slated to end in March but will clearly be needed long past then.

President-elect Joe Biden is expected to endorse extending these federal programs through September. That would be a good start. Even better would be linking these programs (and other safety-net benefits) to the state of the economy so that benefits automatically trigger on and off as on-the-ground conditions warrant. Then helpless workers wouldn't have to wait for lawmakers to act in an economic crisis, which Congress has repeatedly proven unable to do reliably or quickly. Sens. Michael F. Bennet, D-Colo., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., among others, have offered useful blueprints for ways to make federal benefit programs ramp up (and ramp down) more automatically.

The current crisis has also made more salient the horrors of the unemployment insurance IT system -- or systems, plural. Each state and territory runs its own program, with its own obscure set of eligibility rules, and its own terrible user interface, often using decades-old software.

In many states, workers find it cumbersome or even impossible to prove eligibility -- which some officials consider a feature, not a bug, of their system. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R, acknowledged last year that out-of-work Floridians were having so much difficulty collecting benefits because the system included "pointless roadblocks" designed to help the state pay out the "least number of claims."

Decrepit technology is why Congress has had difficulty calibrating the generosity of unemployment benefits. Economic experts have advised replacing a specific fraction of a worker's lost wages -- say, 80% -- but IT limitations forced lawmakers to resort to a less targeted, flat amount instead (such as the current $300 across-the-board supplement).

Setting minimum federal quality standards for both benefit levels and user accessibility is critical. Past efforts to modernize unemployment systems' IT have "made it easier on the state administration process, and not necessarily easier for users," said National Employment Law Project senior policy analyst Michele Evermore. States that have finished IT "upgrades," she said, have typically experienced immediate increases in call volume and claim denials, as workers fumble through yet another exasperating interface.

The feds must give states necessary resources for upgrades -- but also attach strings so that these upgrades actually serve workers. Better still, the federal government could create a standardized software framework so states don't have to reinvent the wheel; it could also nudge states to take on more of the burden of assessing eligibility, through the use of existing administrative records, so that workers face fewer headaches.

Investing in the IT and programmatic upgrades to solve these problems will take years. Mid-crisis never feels like the right time to embark on such a daunting project. But lawmakers must address these problems before the country moves on -- and before the next crisis' desperate workers fall victim to the same fate.

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Catherine Rampell's email address is crampell@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.

The national security apparatus is ready for the inauguration

By david ignatius
The national security apparatus is ready for the inauguration

DAVID IGNATIUS COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, and thereafter

(For Ignatius clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By David Ignatius

WASHINGTON -- A senior official involved in organizing security for next Wednesday's inauguration puts the mission of ensuring the orderly transition of power in the starkest terms: "We need to do everything it takes."

The Defense and Justice departments were shocked by the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. They thought they had sufficient forces to contain the mob, but they were disastrously wrong. Command and control of police and federal law enforcement units was chaotic. The rules of engagement left police and National Guard troops without sufficient anti-riot gear in the early hours of the confrontation.

Officials aren't making the same mistake this time. National Guard troops in the D.C. area for President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration could total more than 20,000, more than 50 times the number initially available on Jan. 6, one senior official said. The Secret Service will coordinate planning. Active-duty Army troops from the Old Guard will be standing by at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall, along with special units to handle medical emergencies, chemical or biological weapons attacks, and other threats.

The goal is an overwhelming show of force, not just in Washington, but around the country. Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard, has been in touch with all 50 states to prepare for contingencies if insurgents carry out threats to attack state capitols. Airspace around the Washington D.C. area will be tightly controlled, in higher altitudes where planes could operate and nearer the ground where drones might fly.

The storming of the Capitol was frightening to legislators trapped by the mob but also to military and law enforcement planners who knew such an attack would be possible but didn't prepare adequately. What worried Pentagon officials was that some members of the mob were clearly military veterans -- suggesting the insurgency might have supporters within the active-duty military itself.

Officials say the presence of veterans was clear from unit insignia displayed by some members of the mob, flags they carried, tactical gear they wore and the way they cleared some rooms in the Capitol.

Commanders drew a sharp line for the military in an unusual "Message to the Joint Force" sent Tuesday to U.S. troops around the world. It was written by Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and signed by him and all seven other chiefs of staff. The chiefs didn't clear the letter with any Pentagon civilians; they felt it was their obligation to communicate directly to the troops.

The warning was blunt. "Any act to disrupt the Constitutional process is not only against our traditions, values and oath; it is against the law," the message read. The riot inside the Capitol was "inconsistent with the rule of law," the memorandum stressed, and First Amendment rights "do not give anyone the right to resort to violence, sedition and insurrection."

Warning to the troops: Do your duty to the country, regardless of your political views. Commanders believed this decisive admonition was necessary because some active-duty and retired soldiers and Marines clearly sympathize with Trump.

One Pentagon official describes a letter he received from a retired officer comparing the crackdown on the mob to "Hitler's Germany." Trump "has done nothing but good," pleaded the letter writer. "They've cut off our places of worship, they've closed our businesses, they've demonized anyone who disagrees with them." Those words echo the standard litany of pro-Trump supporters, and officials know these ideas are shared by some in the military and law enforcement.

The military has learned some bitter lessons about combating insurgencies in the past two decades of "endless wars," and they apply at home as well as abroad. One is the need to show overwhelming force in crisis situations. That lesson will be applied Jan. 20, two weeks late. Another is the importance of intelligence that can identify and disrupt the command-and-control structure of the adversary.

That's one reason the FBI is moving so aggressively now, in the week after the riot. The bureau wants to gather as much exploitable intelligence about this domestic terrorist network as possible in an initial wave of arrests, and then use that information to drive a second and third wave.

One ominous note: The officer who helped perfect this cycle of intelligence exploitation was retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, once a commander of the special operations forces hunting al-Qaida in Iraq, now one of Trump's most fervent and extreme supporters.

The military's unity and independence from politics should be one of the country's strengths going forward. This generation of commanders understands viscerally the danger of creating what strategist David Kilcullen has called "accidental guerrillas" -- people who didn't initially challenge the state but were driven toward revolt by policies that treated them as the enemy.

The FBI and its law enforcement colleagues will have to walk a fine line in the coming weeks and months, identifying the dangerous vanguard and distinguishing it from MAGA-chanting bystanders and wannabes. Stopping this insurgency requires force and intimidation -- and even more, intelligence that can separate real threats from conspiratorial chatter.

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Contact David Ignatius on Twitter @IgnatiusPost

Has Donald Trump finally pushed the GOP to the breaking point?

By fareed zakaria
Has Donald Trump finally pushed the GOP to the breaking point?

FAREED ZAKARIA COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, and thereafter

(For Zakaria clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Fareed Zakaria

The most remarkable thing about the tumultuous past few weeks in American politics has been the behavior not of Donald Trump but of the Republican Party.

Trump acted just as he said he would -- disputing the election result, refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power and encouraging extremism and even violence. But even after the attack on Congress, only 10 House Republicans voted to impeach Trump. Recall that just hours after the storming of the Capitol, a majority of House Republicans -- including their leader, Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) -- had voted in line with the demands of the mob, essentially attempting to nullify a legitimate election and thus overthrow an elected government. Will this slavish loyalty to the dear leader alienate some Republicans? Could it be that Trump has finally pushed the party to a breaking point?

People assume that political parties are immortal, but they can and do die. The Federalist Party was, in a sense, the United States' first political party, associated with Alexander Hamilton and John Adams. But the party veered into authoritarianism and lost any ideological consistency or integrity. It finally withered after its opposition to the War of 1812 (the first time the Capitol was stormed), which was seen as treasonous.

The collapse of the Whig Party has closer historical parallels with today. Founded mostly in opposition to Andrew Jackson, the Whig Party contained both pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions. In 1848, it tried to paper over its divides by nominating a celebrity general, Zachary Taylor, a slaveholder who hadn't been involved in politics and was opposed by most of the Whig establishment. Although he would go on to win the election, his nomination led anti-slavery Whigs to defect. Eventually they joined the newly established Republican Party, and by the late 1850s, the Whig Party had shrunk into oblivion.

Could these parallels hold today? The Republican Party has long harbored several factions that lived together uncomfortably -- libertarians, evangelicals, states' rights advocates and (let's be frank) racists. They have been able to paper over the divides for decades. But in recent years, two factors have propelled the party into crisis. The first is that the Iraq War and the global financial crisis broke the back of the Republican establishment, opening the way for Trump, who appealed not to discredited party elites but to the base with the help of raw cultural and racial rhetoric.

The second factor has been the increasing awareness of its leaders that it is really not a majority party. In the past eight presidential elections, the Republican candidate for president has won the popular vote only once -- in 2004, in the wake of 9/11 and the early days of the Iraq War -- a trend unprecedented in American history.

Nonetheless, the electoral college and the Senate, along with gerrymandering and voter suppression, have enabled the party to win power without winning a majority. That has made it less responsive to the demands of the majority, national elites and the mainstream media. It has found a way to thrive by cultivating its own smaller ecosystem, creating its own facts, theories and heroes.

But that ecosystem is splintering. Fox News, central to the party's ability to indoctrinate its base with myths, half-truths and falsehoods, is losing market share. The newcomers -- Newsmax and OAN -- are willing to enter a fantasy world where even Fox will not go. Perhaps most important, the Republican base is shrinking, not by a huge amount but significantly. Partly this is a matter of long-term demographics; partly it is Trump. Polls suggest that Trump's approval rating has now descended into the 30s, with about 50% of independents supporting his removal from office. Republicans in swing districts across the country may find themselves in an impossible situation: unable to get nominated unless they embrace Trump but unable to get elected if they do.

If these trends persist -- a big "if" in a country where party loyalties remain very strong -- we might see a dangerous dynamic. Some Republicans, both at the elite level as well as among ordinary voters, will defect from the party, unwilling to sign on to the Trump family cult. The Republican Party, i.e. the Rump Trump Party, will become a minority party in more of the country. But it will be dominated by people who reject American democracy and are enamored of conspiracy theories, enraged by their powerlessness and increasingly willing to support extreme, even violent means to achieve their ends. In other words, the future Republicans in Congress may look a lot like the mob that stormed it last week.

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Fareed Zakaria's email address is fareed.zakaria.gps@turner.com.

The GOP is out of time to reject Trump's lies

By eugene robinson
The GOP is out of time to reject Trump's lies

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, and thereafter

(For Robinson clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- President Donald Trump is impeached yet again, disgraced yet again, soon to slink away in shame. But he leaves a poison trail behind him as he departs, an insidious Big Lie about "voter fraud" that gravely threatens our democracy. The Republican Party he leads is out of time to repudiate that lie. If its members fail to act now, they may never extricate themselves, or their country, from it.

Only 10 House Republicans had the integrity and the guts to vote for impeachment Wednesday, despite the unprecedented nature of the article before them. If the rest were so cowardly, ambitious or brainwashed that they felt they had to defend Trump, then let that be between them and what's left of their consciences.

But when they rose to hypocritically lament that impeaching Trump a second time would only "further divide a nation that is calling for healing," as Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana unctuously put it, every single Republican who even pretends to believe in that call for unity should have declared that the November election was entirely legitimate and that Joe Biden defeated Trump fair and square.

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California came close -- but not close enough. He said that "Biden will be sworn in as president of the United States in one week because he won the election." But he failed to take the final necessary step and acknowledge that it is untrue that there were serious questions about how the votes were counted in swing states, that there were unspecified "irregularities" in the process, and that he and others were wrong to encourage the party's base to believe that.

Why is it so important that Republicans come clean about the Big Lie? Because that myth animated last week's "Stop the Steal" rally and the sacking of the Capitol. That's the whole reason thousands of National Guard troops had to bivouac inside the Capitol on Tuesday night and why the National Mall will be closed to celebrants when Biden and Kamala Harris are sworn in on Inauguration Day.

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly claimed that "the only way we're going to lose this election is if the election is rigged." His supporters believed him. After he lost, he and his lawyers made baseless claim after baseless claim about "dead people" allegedly voting, about Biden's vote totals allegedly being fraudulently boosted in the wee hours, about voting machines allegedly manufactured by a company owned in part by the family of late Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez. Trump actually won in a "sacred landslide," he maintained, but the election was "stolen." Once again, his supporters believed him.

Republican elected officials -- except those lost in the wilderness of the QAnon conspiracy theory -- knew full well that Trump was lying. They knew Trump's demands for recounts and his legal team's laughable strategies were bound to fail. But precious few Republican members of Congress called him out, and the GOP apparatus gamely went along with Trump's Big Lie that the election was somehow rigged.

Some Republicans fell in line with Trump's ridiculous claims because they knew he would be gone soon and didn't want to draw his ire in the months and weeks left in his term. Others, however, saw an opportunity to advance the party's long-term project of tilting the playing field by purging voter rolls and otherwise restricting the franchise in ways that disadvantage Democratic candidates and make it easier for Republicans to win.

Trump promised rank-and-file Republicans that somehow the election result would be reversed and he would remain in office. But Jan. 6 loomed. Once the electoral votes had been tallied and certified, his fiction could no longer be maintained. Trump told his supporters to come to Washington; he sent them up to Capitol Hill to "fight" for him -- and the horror that ensued ended up making him the only president to be impeached twice.

The biggest problem facing the nation now is not what to do with Trump, who will soon become yesterday's news. The crisis is that more than 70% of Republican voters believe -- falsely -- that there was some kind of widespread fraud in the election. The essence of democracy is accepting both victory and loss as legitimate outcomes.

A GOP that internalizes and retains Trump's conspiratorial worldview is not a political party. It is a dangerous cult. Elected officials who have cynically -- or cravenly -- gone along with that cult's lies will not find it easy to reverse course.

Much more important than whether Trump is convicted in his coming trial is whether Republicans level with their constituents and tell them that Trump is lying.

If Republicans won't -- or can't -- tell the truth about the November election, they are no longer participants in our democracy. They are its enemies.

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Eugene Robinson is on Twitter: @Eugene_Robinson.

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