Republicans who now are skittering away from their cult leader like privileged rats on a sinking yacht cannot escape the taint of their sycophantic loyalty to the worst president in modern times, probably of all time. Their pathetic fealty to a cowardly bully and would-be autocrat will not be easily scrubbed off, even as they apply the phony sandpaper of saying the right things about the Trump-inspired insurrection that shocked the nation on January 6. Trump owns the violence that he incited when he addressed the protesters hours before they stormed the U.S. Capitol -- a mob of thugs and goons distinguished by their flags: far more Trump and Confederate banners than the Stars and Stripes. He stoked the fire. The rioters took his cue. He retreated to the White House to watch it explode, and then made matters worse with a tweet that all but condoned the assault and looting. He understood their pain, he said. He loved them, he said.

It was too much even for Trump’s most submissive lap dogs. But it’s too late for redemption. Trump’s enablers are as culpable for the attack on democracy as is their erstwhile leader. Among them: North Dakota senators Kevin Cramer and John Hoeven and Congressman Kelly Armstrong, all unwavering Trumpsters until a few days ago. They sat on their hands for four years while this accidental president set the stage for violence, deepened the nation’s divisions, poisoned the political atmosphere and encouraged lawlessness. They gave him a pass.

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When Trump equated peaceful protesters with malignant white supremacists, North Dakota’s congressional delegation said little of substance. When he insulted patriots like the late Sen. John McCain, they went mute. When he pardoned convicted criminals -- the likes of which make the Nixon Watergate crowd look like saints -- they declined to criticize. When he refused to accept the result of the presidential election, they indulged his narcissist fantasy.

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The politicians’ failure to stand for decency was abetted by talk radio provocateurs, including Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and (on local radio) Scott Hennen. By regurgitating all things Trump, they paved the road that led to the outrage at the U.S. Capitol. One local columnist (a former Moorhead councilman) hasn’t had an original thought since he got stoned on Trump’s toxic Kool-aid. He, too, is guilty of attempting to legitimize a bilious ideology that stirred the darkest inclinations in the American character.

When you buy into lies, you’re a liar. When you validate indecency, you’re indecent. When you decline to stand for what’s right, you’re wrong. Not complicated.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.