In One Week, Trump Went From A Call For Unity To Calling Political Rivals ‘Treasonous’

Last week, the President was calling for national unity. This week, he called political opponents "treasonous."

In his State Of The Union Address, President Trump received some praise even from otherwise critical commentators for his calls for national unity, which seemed to be a marked departure from the tone he had taken as both a candidate and in the first year of his Presidency.  Based on this, there was good reason to be skeptical that the speech signaled an effort by Trump to turn the page and perhaps the tone after a tumultuous and often bitter first year in office that contributed in no small amount to the fact that his job approval numbers, though they have improved somewhat, remain at historic lows for a new President. We’d seen similar efforts over the past year, and during the campaign, by Trump and those around him to seemingly put the negative rhetoric and the bombast behind them and move on to the realities of governing, and without fail they were quickly followed by actions or rhetoric that negates everything that the President said and returns to the vile rhetoric that has marked his career as a politician and, indeed, was a part of the “brand” he had developed on Twitter long before he became a candidate for office. Inevitably, as I suggested last week, the President does something that makes it appear that “a call for national unity rings hollow at best and hypocritical at worst.”

As it turned out, it only took about a week for the old Trump to return:

WASHINGTON — A week ago, President Trump stood before Congress as an improbable unifier. “Tonight,” he declared, “I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek out common ground and to summon the unity we need to deliver for the people.”

This week, Mr. Trump is back to being a disrupter. After accusing Democrats of being un-American and even treasonous for refusing to applaud during his State of the Union speech, he said on Tuesday that he would welcome a government shutdown if he cannot reach a spending deal with Congress that tightens immigration laws.

A week ago, Mr. Trump called for a grand compromise with Democrats on the legal status of the undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers — a deal, he said, “where nobody gets everything they want, but where our country gets the critical reforms it needs.” After all, the president added, “Americans are dreamers too.”

On Tuesday, his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, said that many Dreamers failed to register for protected status with the government because they were “were too afraid to sign up” or were “too lazy to get off their asses.” He said he doubted Mr. Trump would extend the March 5 deadline that shields them from deportation.

Mr. Trump’s threat of a shutdown seemed to have little effect on the delicate negotiations on Capitol Hill to raise spending caps on military and nonmilitary spending — an agreement that, if passed by both houses of Congress, would pave the way for long-term deal to fund the government.

It was also not clear whether Mr. Kelly’s charged language about the Dreamers would affect the charged negotiations on immigration that will soon consume Congress, though it was the latest evidence that Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general once viewed as a curb on Mr. Trump, shares some of his most hard-edge views.

Head-spinning reversals, of course, are nothing new for Mr. Trump. His positions on issues can gyrate more wildly than the Dow Jones industrial average. His is a presidency that has made the extraordinary ordinary.

After these latest remarks, the White House swung into its customary role of cleanup. The deputy press secretary, Hogan Gidley, played down Mr. Trump’s charges of Democratic treason as “tongue-in-cheek,” while the press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, muddied the waters on whether the president really planned to shut down the government.

Mr. Trump’s casual embrace of a shutdown — after the last brief shutdown, which he portrayed as a Democratic betrayal of America’s troops — drew an impassioned response from Representative Barbara Comstock, a Republican who represents a moderate district in Northern Virginia, an area that is home to many federal workers.

“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” she said, imploring Mr. Trump. “Both sides have learned that a government shutdown was bad. It wasn’t good for them.”

For others in Washington, however, there was a creeping sense of numbness. Mr. Trump has said so many outrageous things, has broken so many taboos and has insulted so many people that his latest outbursts no longer shock. To some, they seem more of the same.

It fell to Senator Jeff Flake, the lame-duck Arizona Republican who has emerged as a prime nemesis of Mr. Trump, to point out the novelty of an American president branding members of the other party as traitors because they did not celebrate him.

“Have we arrived at such a place of numb acceptance that we have nothing to say when a president of the United States casually suggests that those who choose not to stand or applaud his speech are guilty of treason?” he said from the floor the Senate. “I certainly hope not.”

Mr. Flake noted that “the president’s most ardent defenders use the now-weary argument that the president’s comments were meant as a joke, just sarcasm, only tongue in cheek.”

“Treason,” he thundered, “is not a punch-line, Mr. President.”

None of this should come as a surprise, of course. Every time it has seemed as though the President may have turned a corner or that the outrageous rhetoric and Twitter outbursts were becoming less common, Trump would emerge from the shadows to demonstrate that he is still the same fundamentally flawed person that he revealed himself to be during the campaign and over the course of his first year as President. This is, after all, a man who has engaged in a long line of outrageous statements that stretches back to long before he was a candidate for President. During the early months of the campaign for the 2012 election, for example, when he seemed to flirt with the idea of running for President only to make it apparent that the whole thing was largely a publicity stunt to drum up interest in the latest season of Celebrity Apprentice, Trump was the primary proponent of the birther conspiracy theories about President Obama that were quite obviously based largely on the color of the incumbent President’s skin.

During the campaign, he had plenty of vile things to say about Mexicans and Muslimsmocking disabled people, attacked women like Megyn Kelly and Carly Fiorina in the crassest and most demeaning manner possible, encouraged his supporters to engage in violence against counter-demonstrators, and demonstrated utter disdain for the Rule of Law and Freedom of the Press. He continued that theme of divisiveness during his first year in office, most notedly in the wake of violence that came with the alt-right protests in Charlottesville, Virginia after which he blamed ‘both sides’ for the violence and declined to condemn the groups who organized and participate in the rally such as the Ku Klux Klan or the broader so-called alt-right movement whose supporters made up the vast majority of the participants. The outrage over these comments was sufficiently broad, even from fellow Republicans in Washington, that the White House was compelled to have Trump deliver a follow-up comment the following Monday that was more measured and emphatic than what he had said before. Whatever damage had been repaired by that statement, though, was short-lived since less than twenty-four hours later when Trump repeated his ‘both sides’ argument in a press conference and repeated them again -a month later.

More recently, he attacked the mostly African-American N.F.L. players who declined the to stand for the National Anthem, calling them “sons of bitches,” and derided immigration from “shithole countries” such as Haiti as well as, seemingly, the entire continent of Africa. Earlier this week, he went back to the old habit of giving nicknames to his political enemies by referring to Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as “Little Adam,” and of course made his comment about Democrats who didn’t stand for his State of the Union address as “un-American and “treasonous,” a remark that the Trump campaign has turned into a campaign advertisement:

Perhaps most disturbing, although not surprising, is the fact that his Administration appears to be mimicking his rhetoric now rather than counteract it. Administration spokespeople such as Kellyanne Conway and others who appear on television regularly have increasingly been repeating and justifying even the most outrageous of the President’s statements, for example. In response to questions about the President’s attacks on Democrats at the State of the Union, White House Press Secretary Sandra Huckabee Sanders said that “Democrats are going to have to make a decision at some point really soon,” Ms. Sanders said. “Do they hate this president more than they love this country? And I hope the answer to that is, ‘No.'” Even John Kelly, the Chief of Staff who many believed would help moderate Trump to some degree has fallen in line, as evidenced by his comment yesterday that some people eligible for DACA relief were “too lazy to get off their asses” to apply for DACA status in the first place.

None of this should be a surprise, of course. As I said the day after the State of Union, Trump inevitably returns to his old form after these occasional periods when he appears to be acting “Presidential,” and it was inevitable that he would return to his traditional form. This is Donald Trump being Donald Trump, there’s no reason to believe he can or is willing to change at this point in his life. Indeed, the feedback he gets from his supporters, and apparently from his own advisers, is likely leading him to conclude that he’s on the right track. This is the President you voted for America, and barring something incredibly out of the ordinary, you’re stuck with him until at least January 20th, 2021.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    Am I surprised that Trump would view a disinclination to celebrate him–he himself–as evidence of treason? No, not at all. He’s always made it clear that real Americans aren’t supposed to feel love and loyalty to their country,they’re supposed to feel love and loyalty to him.

    And now, like any tinpot dictator/genocidal autocrat, he wants a big military parade to celebrate his might.

  2. Daryl's other brother Darryl says:

    Well, even worse, on top of calling people who don’t clap for him treasonous, he is now demanding the military produce a big parade to salute him. I mean…banana republic doesn’t do it justice.
    But here is the biggest hair-raising story of the day!!! (watch all the way thru)

  3. Franklin says:

    Well, to be super generous, I suppose one could take his comment to be hyperbole, as some are arguing. But then my local paper put up a poll whether not clapping is treasonous, and a good 15% of the respondents said yes.

  4. Franklin says:

    @Daryl’s other brother Darryl: Christ, Daryl, what has been seen cannot be unseen. Not even sure that was safe for work.

  5. grumpy realist says:

    Oh, and we’ve got a Holocaust-denier and Nazi running as the GOP candidate for a seat here in Illinois. Mainly because the GOP couldn’t be bothered to get anyone else on the ballot. They’re now running around in a panic and scrambling to see if they can supersede him with a write-in campaign….

  6. Mister Bluster says:

    Just 4 U Darryl!

  7. grumpy realist says:

    (God I wish I had the chance to sit down and give Trump my lecture on Why Treason Is the One Crime Written Into The U.S. Constitution, but it would do no good.)

  8. Kathy says:

    The Democrats should make it very clear they hate Trump because they love their country.

  9. Jake says:

    Party of Hate doesn’t believe in unity. Trump gives them DACA + and they say no. All about votes for the Dems.

  10. Pete S says:

    @Jake: Did you read the article? Can you read it? Both parties are getting close to a budget agreement, but Trump is actively seeking a shutdown if he does not get his way on immigration right now.

  11. Gustopher says:

    Going from calls for unity to declaring his opponents traitors isn’t a contradiction if Trump himself is a traitor.

  12. Franklin says:

    @Jake: Your comment makes no sense, since the Party of Hate is obviously the GOP.

  13. becca says:

    The GOP hoisted this ridiculous moron onto the world stage, don’t forget.

    The party of stupid (POS, if you will) has taken the cake, absolutely outdone themselves, in the race to the bottom of the barrel. Someone ought to hammer in the bung now.

    These coming midterms are going to be turbo-charged even more than 2016.

    Not gonna be fun.

  14. JKB says:

    It’s true, Trump should not have let the treason joke run. He should not have said that Democrats don’t seem to love America.

    Of course, Democrats love America, they just don’t like America when it gets uppity and thinks it can be great again. Or when Americans think America is exceptional and not the same as the lowest of the low among other nations whose people believe their country is exceptional.

    As long as everyone accepts the “New Normal” and don’t start believing that the economy can grow and that even those out of favor with the Democratic party can succeed, then Democrats even like America. But when America starts thinking it can be great, again, they feel tough love is in order.

  15. al-Ameda says:


    As long as everyone accepts the “New Normal” and don’t start believing that the economy can grow and that even those out of favor with the Democratic party can succeed, then Democrats even like America. But when America starts thinking it can be great, again, they feel tough love is in order.

    Economic growth is a problem for Democrats?
    You don’t even try.
    You do realize that under President Obama – in the months following the catastrophic Great Recession of 2008 – we had over 6 consecutive months of steady economic growth, the unemployment rate dropped from over 10% to under 5%, the housing market recovered the $9 trillion in value lost, and the equities markets recovered over $8 trillion in wealth lost?

  16. Franklin says:

    @JKB: Despite the negative votes, you’re kinda close to the crux of the matter. I think it’s generally true that progressives envision a distant future where countries are obsolete, you can move around freely and tolerate or even celebrate interesting cultural differences. The opposite, of course, is to wall ourselves off, declare our culture to be the best culture ever, and continue fostering wars against anybody who disagrees. Progressives do see the many good things about America and want to share them, reactionaries pessimistically assume nobody likes us and don’t want to share anyway.

    BTW, there’s not a whole lot of evidence that the economy needs to grow any faster than general population growth. A few measures to protect the planet won’t hurt anything, and in fact would help quality of life significantly.

  17. Gustopher says:


    Of course, Democrats love America, they just don’t like America when it gets uppity and thinks it can be great again. Or when Americans think America is exceptional and not the same as the lowest of the low among other nations whose people believe their country is exceptional.

    I’m not sure what you mean by great again.

    We are a country that was founded on lofty ideals written up by people who owned slaves, believed only property owners should vote and that women should definitely not vote. We are closer to the lofty ideals now than we were when they were written.

    More people have more opportunities now than ever before. When were we greater?

    Gays can get married, and I just want to tell you, that’s great. Blacks can marry whites. Great. Blacks and women can vote. Great. You can’t be fired for being a woman and getting pregnant. Great. You can’t be fired for being a Jew, Christian, or Atheist. Great.

    Health care costs more here than anywhere else. Not so great. Too many young people have too much debt. Not so great. Opioids are delicious. Not so great. So lots of work to do.

    Look at the differences in the past 30 years. Drunk driving is way, way down. That’s great. Pedophile priests get prosecuted. Great. Pot is ever more legal… not bad.

    Liberals want to make America ever greater.

  18. Bob The Arqubusier says:

    After a year of beating the Democrats like a redheaded stepchild, Trump asked them “had enough?” and put forward an offer on DACA that included a path to citizenship to more than double of the number of actual DACA applicants. The Democrats told him to screw off, and people are surprised and disappointed that he’s resumed beating them around again?

    Oh, as far as “poor jokes” go, I seem to recall Obama “joking” about siccing the IRS on his political opponents. Only that turned out to not be much of a joke after all…