Former vice president Joe Biden’s unfounded accusation Thursday that President Donald Trump wants to delay November’s election was not only clearly over the line but also unmasks how low the supposedly moderate Biden will go to win.

Biden said in an online fundraiser, “Mark my words, I think he is going to try to kick back the election somehow.” As the former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Biden surely knows that Trump cannot and will not delay the election. The election date is set in law; Trump cannot change it without Congress’ consent. The election itself is run by the states, not the federal government, so there’s no bureaucracy Trump could corral to implement any order delaying the vote. Such an order would surely be challenged in court, and it’s inconceivable that the Supreme Court would uphold such a blatantly unconstitutional act.

Nonetheless, Biden chose to taint the president essentially with a charge of treason. One would hope that this baseless statement could be excused as just another one of Biden’s increasingly frequent verbal hiccups. But Biden said other things Thursday night that show he believes Trump is a disloyal wannabe dictator.

Biden’s other stupendous fabrication concerned the U.S. Postal Service. The chronically mismanaged agency has been hemorrhaging billions of dollars for years and has been badly hit — as have all businesses — by the coronavirus pandemic. Democrats wanted to bail out the Postal Service in previous relief bills, but Trump has reportedly insisted on reforms to the entity’s business model as a condition for extra funding. That’s a reasonable demand, but Biden instead accused the president of trying to make it harder for people to vote by mail by defunding or otherwise hindering the Postal Service’s operations. There’s absolutely no proof Trump wants to do that, but that didn’t stop Biden.

Accusations such as these are a staple of the anti-Trump fever swamps. For them, it’s not enough to point out the president’s inarticulateness, crude language and lack of judgment. It’s not enough to call out the president when they disagree with Trump’s policies. Trump-haters make the president out to be evil and intent on destroying America.

This rhetoric is both unfounded and harmful to democracy. Trump has not done anything that a hopeful dictator would do, such as restrict press freedom, curtail political activity or arrest political opponents. Saying that he intends to do these things, however, makes anyone who supports him suspect. By falsely making this election a referendum on American democracy, advocates of these views attempt to portray Trump supporters and voters un-American.

One would hope that Biden himself doesn’t believe this, but this isn’t the first time Biden has crossed rhetorical lines during a campaign. He told a racially mixed audience in 2012 that Mitt Romney wanted to “put y’all back in chains.” The remark was slammed by Republicans and defended by Democrats, but even an interpretation favorable to Biden suggests he’s willing to engage in divisive rhetoric to curry favor with potential voters. That’s dangerous to democracy in the current supercharged political environment.

The media cannot let this go. Serious reporters should ask Biden directly what basis he has to make such serious charges. Fact-checking entities should examine Biden’s statements and assess whether there is any evidence supporting them. If there is none, the media should push him to repudiate them.

Biden says he wants to heal and unify the country. That’s a noble aspiration, but he can’t unify a nation that he intentionally divides by accusing his political opponent of traitorous intent. Biden says he’s a better man than Trump. Comments such as these suggest that maybe he’s not.

Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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