Predictably and immediately, Donald Trump’s outburst after he learned of the famous Times oped proved precisely the author’s point. On cable news, they’re still talking about who wrote it, but not nearly enough air time is being devoted to Trump’s reaction.
If Trump thinks this qualifies as treason, that is proof that he can’t see the difference between himself and the state, and a president of the United States who thinks like that is unfit for office.
Yes, it’s always been obvious. From the day he took office, from the day he announced his plans for a Muslim ban, from the day he descended that escalator it’s been obvious. Oh, by the way, speaking of the day he took office: You may have missed this in all the week’s dramas, but the Guardian got documents back on a FOIA request to the National Parks Service—a request fulfilled, it seems, by yet another traitor!—proving that the National Parks Service cropped inauguration crowd photographs to cut out the empty spaces after an early morning phone conversation the day after between Trump and the acting NPS director.
No, this is not surprising. Nothing is surprising. And yet everything is worth noting. This is Stalinesque. Remember The Commissar Vanishes? It was a book of photographs showing how top Soviet officials disappeared from photographs as they fell out of favor with Uncle Joe. I urge our nation’s photo editors to keep their eyes peeled for the same here.
Anyway. lots of things are obvious to a lot of people, but society still needs a certain weight of evidence before it can act on those things.
Well, that weight has been attained.
Treason, in our history, is a special crime. And it’s not merely wrong for Trump to call this oped an act of treason. It is un-American, unpatriotic, dictatorial, a general insult to all Americans, and a particular insult to the Founding Fathers, who took care to define treason extremely narrowly: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court.”
Only in levying war. Treason isn’t espionage, which is why the Rosenbergs, at least legally, were not traitors. Treason isn’t selling secrets, which is why Robert Hansen and Aldrich Ames were not legal traitors. Treason is helping a wartime enemy, period. The last person convicted of treason in this country was a Japanese-American man who was born here, went to Japan and ended up supporting the fascist empire during the war, then came back in 1946 and was recognized by a POW in a Sears department store. He was convicted in 1952.
Why such a high standard? Because in England, treason was practically anything the monarch wanted it to be. Shagging the monarch’s unmarried daughters was treason, or his son’s wife.
I shouldn’t have written that sentence, it’ll just give him ideas.
Treason is, additionally, the only crime defined in the Constitution. It is very serious business, and the founders meant for us to take it very seriously.
In the United States, a person cannot commit treason against a president. The idea would not have been laughable to James Madison. It would have been an offense of the very first order, to Madison and all of them, especially George Washington. The first principle of our government, the one Washington made stick through the example he set by giving up power, was no tyrants.
The treason tweet isn’t the only piece of evidence. There’s the tweet that followed right after on Wednesday, demanding that the Times turn its columnist over to the government. And there was the one that kicked the week off, chastising Jeff Sessions because the Justice Department happens to be investigating two Republican House members for, you know, committing possible crimes.
It can’t be any plainer. A man who thinks an act of disloyalty to him is an act of treason; who believes a newspaper ought to turn a writer over to the state, and who is enraged that the Justice Department doesn’t act as his personal fixer and consigliere—that man should not be the president of the United States.
As I said, we’ve known that for a long time. But now it’s actionable. The 25th Amendment question raised in that oped is no longer theoretical. So what actions are people taking?
Well, Ted Cruz said eh, that Times piece could have been written by anyone; was probably even written by a Democrat. Rand Paul said Trump should polygraph everyone in the White House. Paul Ryan said, “If you're not interested in helping the president, you shouldn't work for the president as far as I'm concerned.”
And so on and so on. I see Bob Corker and Ben Sasse did their usual shooting of their rhetorical popguns at the president by agreeing with the premise of the oped, but neither they nor any elected Republican said a word critical of Trump’s reaction that I could see.
And so we slip one important rung farther down the ladder as now Trump throws treason around, and Republicans yawn. And if you’re wondering when this will end, stop. It won’t, until they are defeated.
The thing to watch now is whether Trump orders the machinery of the state to find out who authored the Times piece. If he thinks it’s treason, why wouldn’t he? And if he does that, it’s finally time for non-anonymous patriots to take a stand.