The most important truth that reaches Official Washington each day appears not in a bold black breaking-news headline, but in small italic letters just below The Washington Post’s proud front-page, top-o’-the screen nameplate:

“Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

And as we all know: a democracy-killing Darkness descends most rapidly, and lethally, when people are willfully determined to shut their eyes to the Truth.

Sadly and frighteningly, here at the intersection of policy, politics and the news media, the impeachment probe of the Trump presidency has brought us to one of the most challenging crossroads since our Civil War. And so, we must mark the beginning of this year’s holiday season by giving ourselves a rarest gift: It is a gift of honesty and candor in which we will take a hard look at not just our politicians, but ourselves — and our obligations as American citizens.

For some time now, Washington’s greats, near-greats, ex-greats and ingrates have been hearing and heeding what too many of them consider the voice of the people. Namely, the too-many millions of Americans who politicians hear pleading: “Please lie to me!”

As in: Keep telling me the things that make me feel great (I don’t care anymore whether or not it’s true!). Also: Keep telling me bad things about the people you know I love to hate (even if the claims are not true!).

Today, the folks who like to call themselves our leaders are actually leading us by trying to just tell us stuff they think we want to hear.

There is no doubt that President Donald Trump has shattered (by orders of magnitude!) all known records of presidential lies. As The Washington Post’s fact-checkers have tallied, Trump has told almost 14,000 lies as president.

But mainly he keeps telling us he’s done all the things he knows his core supporters want — and all the things he promised them he’d do. So he says he has built miles of new Mexican border walls where none existed before. Not so. And so on.

And frankly, we all have contributed to our national crisis by treating President Trump’s reign as America’s Lyin’ King as if it is mere fodder for TV comedians. But it is really a compulsive and unforgivable deception of American voters — and that’s just not funny.

But all of that changed with the surprisingly sudden onset of what is now Trump’s genuine impeachment crisis over whether or not he really bribed the Ukraine government to get it to investigate his Democratic opponents. America has been jolted into a constitutional crisis that is both grave and real.

Yet, shamefully, as House Democrats began to probe and reveal facts about what Trump and his acolytes did in withholding military aid and presidential meetings in an effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Trump’s Democratic opponents, the House and Senate Republicans have failed to perform in the serious, responsible manner that led historians to ultimately respect the Grand Old Party members of the Senate Watergate Committee and House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Richard Nixon in 1974.

Initially, those 1970s Republican senators and House members figured their job would be to defend their party’s president. But they did not approach their responsibility with the crass political name-calling, diversions, distortions and flat-out refusals to even publicly discuss the facts. Shamefully, that’s just what we have seen from today’s GOP representatives and senators. In the end, in 1974, Nixon’s so-called “smoking gun” tape recordings of Nixon ordering the fake national security cover-up of the Watergate crimes convinced many Republicans that Nixon’s presidency must end at once. And it did.

House Republicans have shamed their no-longer Grand Old Party by refusing to seriously address the revelations disclosed by Trump officials who said they were troubled by the Trump administration’s apparent quid pro quo demands on Ukraine.

But now, we need to focus on the other end of the Great News Funnel — the end that is filling our news screens and dead-tree newspaper pages. Our responsibility is to make sure we are not limiting ourselves only to those news sources that we know will slant their coverage to tell us what we want to hear.

And that goes mainly for Republicans who, as Trump’s hardcore corps, unquestioningly sop up whatever flows out of the Fox News funnel. Republican voters especially need to fully inform themselves — so they can take back control of their shattered, shameful party. They can start by voicing one bold demand of the president and their senators and representatives:

“Stop lying to me, please!”

Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at martin.schram@gmail.com.

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