Washington more than ever is a land divided — this time between the enablers of Donald Trump as he flails about in search of a reason not to leave the White House and those who can still remember what it is to be a true public servant, a true patriot.
Beyond the nation’s capital, public officials in state capitals and leaders from abroad have been acknowledging the electoral victory of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. But there are those who insist on pandering to the delusional notions of a dysfunctional commander in chief — and it’s everyday Americans who are forced to pay the price for that misplaced loyalty.
The word has gone out among Trump loyalists to circle the wagons: refuse to cooperate with the Biden team and bury those briefing books traditionally prepared to aid a smooth transition of administrations. In Trumpworld, denial has become the preferred route of sycophants and political survivalists — from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Rudolph Giuliani, the president’s lawyer — democracy be damned.
When Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell insists, as he did Monday on the floor of the Senate, that Trump is “100 percent within his right” to contest election results and “look into allegations and request recounts under the law,” he is humoring the president. But he does so at the risk of his own legacy.
“Until the Electoral College votes, anyone who is running for office can exhaust concerns,” McConnell told reporters 24 hours later. But Dec. 14 is a long time to wait — given that nothing but frivolous allegations that would have no impact on the election outcome have surfaced. It’s a long time to pretend, and mislead the American public, that someone other than Joe Biden will be taking the oath of office on Jan. 20.
McConnell has plenty of fellow travelers among elected officials — House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of California and Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Ted Cruz of Texas are all spreading the same myth of widespread fraudulent voting. Scrutiny of and recounts in close races are, of course, warranted in a democracy. What’s not are these unfounded lies that undermine fair elections of the same kind that got those very leaders into office.
But it’s the continued efforts of Attorney General William Barr to weaponize the Justice Department in defense of the president that are the most worrisome. In a memo to federal prosecutors issued Monday, Barr rescinded a longstanding agency policy that prosecutors not take overt steps to investigate voter fraud until election results are in and certified.
Instead, Barr wrote, “I authorize you to pursue substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities prior to the certification of elections in your jurisdictions in certain cases, as I have already done in specific instances.”
Those “instances” are reportedly in Nevada and Michigan. Nevada election officials have already said that many of the 3,000 ballots the Trump campaign have flagged as fraudulent because the voter has “moved,” actually were cast by people in the military.
But despite the horrors of every official willing to pervert our system of justice or the sacred trust placed in them as public officials, there is a small but growing cadre of heroes: public servants and elected officials willing to put their careers on the line to stand up for the truth.
In response to that most recent Barr memo, Richard Pilger, head of the Justice Department’s Election Crime Branch, stepped down, saying in an e-mail to colleagues, “Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications . . . I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch.” He reportedly remains elsewhere at the department.
Among those agencies that had been actively involved in preparing for a transition to the next administration was the US Agency for International Development, which supervises the distribution of billions of dollars in humanitarian grants to foreign countries around the globe. There, Bonnie Glick, who had been serving as deputy administrator of the agency, was fired by the White House days ago. No reason was given, but it is widely believed Glick’s dismissal had something to do with the 440-page transition document she ordered prepared. A public servant doing her job, despite the consequences, ought to be hailed, not disgraced.
And in Georgia, where Biden held a lead of roughly 14,000 votes and two Senate races are headed for a January runoff, the two Republicans in those contested races are demanding the resignation of Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. His offense? The secretary has repeatedly said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in his state. Raffensperger is not backing down from defending the truth and the credibility of an election where voters simply expressed their will.
There are still those with the courage to speak the truth, like our own former governor, Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, current governor Charlie Baker, who Tuesday condemned the Trump administration for failing to initiate the transition, and countless decent people within government trying to do the right thing.
It shouldn’t be so hard or so rare for elected officials and public servants in a democracy to defend the core principles of truth, elections free from political interference, and the peaceful transfer of power. This is a moment in history when real patriots will stand up. Look for them — and don’t forget those not standing.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.