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 Wilkes-Barre, 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.
But Trump's fanciful fulminations, what Obama calls a "swamp of crazy," go far beyond dishonesty and discrimination. He's taken to denouncing "a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities."
Again, everybody knows exactly what he's talking about. This is a classic anti-Semitic trope, invoking a secret "global power structure" that controls and manipulates the economy for nefarious ends. He never said "Jewish bankers," but he didn't have to. The codes are clear.
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 re-election 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.