The Constitutional Definition of Treason

You keep using that word. It does not mean what you think it means.

Since a lot of people have been rhetorically accusing Trump of treason.  For example, here is an especially prominent example:

I would note that treason is the only crime defined by the US Constitution:

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.

We are not at war with Russia.  Whatever has happened here, it isn’t treason.  Plus, treason is a capital crime and therefore really isn’t the kind of thing that ought to be carelessly thrown about.

Having said that, I do agree that Trump’s performance in Russia was shameful and damaging (and his walk back utterly ridiculous).

Further, a piece from the NYT underscores that Trump has been covering up the fact that he has had evidence of direct Russian interference since before his inauguration:   From the Start, Trump Has Muddied a Clear Message: Putin Interfered.

Two weeks before his inauguration, Donald J. Trump was shown highly classified intelligence indicating that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia had personally ordered complex cyberattacks to sway the 2016 American election.

The evidence included texts and emails from Russian military officers and information gleaned from a top-secret source close to Mr. Putin, who had described to the C.I.A. how the Kremlin decided to execute its campaign of hacking and disinformation.

Mr. Trump sounded grudgingly convinced, according to several people who attended the intelligence briefing. But ever since, Mr. Trump has tried to cloud the very clear findings that he received on Jan. 6, 2017, which his own intelligence leaders have unanimously endorsed.

The shifting narrative underscores the degree to which Mr. Trump regularly picks and chooses intelligence to suit his political purposes. That has never been more clear than this week.

At a minimum, Trump is so insecure about his win over Hillary Clinton that he is willing to lie to the public about this situation (or he really does not understand what he has been told).  At worst, he know that his campaign did collude and is actively trying to obfuscate that fact.  None of that may be treason, but it does all suggest he is unfit to be President of the United States.

 

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Michael Reynolds says:

    We were never at war – officially – with North Korea. If LBJ or Nixon had been compromised by the North Vietnamese and served North Vietnam’s interests it would have been treason.

    This semantic quibble is ridiculous. ‘Treason’ like many words in the English language has more than one definition, more than one use. It is not uniquely a reference to federal criminal law.

    trea·son
    ˈtrēzən/Submit
    noun
    the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to kill the sovereign or overthrow the government.
    “they were convicted of treason”
    synonyms: treachery, disloyalty, betrayal, faithlessness; More
    the action of betraying someone or something.
    plural noun: treasons
    “doubt is the ultimate treason against faith”
    synonyms: treachery, disloyalty, betrayal, faithlessness; More
    historical
    the crime of murdering someone to whom the murderer owed allegiance, such as a master or husband.
    noun: petty treason; plural noun: petty treasons

    Trump is a traitor and should be called a traitor.

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  2. MarkedMan says:

    or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort

    Russia is most certainly an Enemy of the the US. The constitution does not define “Enemies” as only ones engaged in active wars, does it?

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  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Sorry, that first reference should have been North Vietnam, not Korea.

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  4. As a matter of law, Steven is completely correct.

    However, I would suggest that there is a difference between the use of the word “treason” as a rhetorical device and the suggestion that a specific act meets the legal definition of “treason” under Article III of the Constitution.

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  5. Pylon says:

    With the disjunctive “or” there, it seems to me that the Constitutional crime in this case depends on the definition of “enemies”. And I guess, the past construction of “aid and comfort”.

    The punishment isn’t necessarily death – the United States Code at 18 U.S.C. § 2381 states:

    Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

    I’d be pretty happy with the last one, plus maybe a small billion dollar fine.

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  6. drj says:

    We are not at war with Russia. Whatever has happened here, it isn’t treason.

    Admittedly, I’m completely unfamiliar with the relevant jurisprudence. But an originalist reading of the relevant article does not lead to the conclusion that treason (in a judicial sense) can only occur in wartime. The “or” gives it away:

    Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

    So the question becomes whether it is possible to be an enemy of the US if there exists no state of war.

    For instance, is it possible for a country to be classified as an “enemy” if that country has committed multiple crimes on US soil to illegally influence an election in order to weaken the US?

    Personally, I’d say yes.

    In any case, even if I’m wrong here (which is very much possible), you should work a bit harder in order to make your conclusion truly convincing.

    ETA: basically what Pylon said.

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  7. Pylon says:

    @drj:

    In thinking further, it’s obvious that there need not be a state of war for there to an enemy of the US to exist. Bush imprisoned plenty of “enemy combatants” without a state of war (yes, often unjustly). Can anyone deny that members of Al Qaeda were enemies of the US?

    In fact, though they may not be useful precedent because of changing values and notions of treasonous conduct, and because some are for treason against a state, many of the actual convictions that exist are without a state of war. See John Freis, Thomas Dorr, John Brown, Walter Allen.

    All of that said, it ain’t happening. There hasn’t been a treason conviction since 1952, and that was for WWII activity by a dual Japanese/US citizen who lived in Japan at the time.

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  8. drj says:

    @Pylon:

    Dorr and Brown were convicted of treason unde state law rather than federal law. That might make a difference. Don’t know about the other two.

    “Enemy combatants” (but perhaps not all of them) commited armed violence. Again, this might make a difference, legally speaking.

    But you’re absolutely right that things appear considerably less clear-cut than “no war, no treason.”

  9. drj says:

    Regardless, I think it is perfectly OK to call Trump a traitor. Words have meaning outside of legal contexts.

    Trump is refusing to defend the US against attacks that originate in the country that helped him win the election. That alone should do it.

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  10. James Pearce says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    However, I would suggest that there is a difference between the use of the word “treason” as a rhetorical device and the suggestion that a specific act meets the legal definition of “treason” under Article III of the Constitution.

    There is a difference. It’s kind of like the difference between “murder” and “abortion,” innit?

    (Maybe we should avoid this rhetorical device and just go with “bad president.”)

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  11. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    We are not at war with Russia.

    Semantic drivel.
    We are under attack by Russia.
    In failing to defend this country from that, Dennison is failing to obey his oath of office and is, thus, a traitor.

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  12. Timothy Watson says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I would also point out that if a 19th century American military officer had been caught cavorting with a hostile American Indian tribe, do you doubt he would have been charged with treason?

  13. MarkedMan says:

    Aaron Burr was charged of Treason in 1807 but acquitted. (From Fox News)

    Chief Justice John Marshall, who acquitted Burr, said that to prove treason, “war must actually be levied against the United States … conspiracy (to levy war) is not treason.”

    Still, I would be quite happy with what the Rosenbergs were charged with, Conspiracy to Commit Espionage. And with the resultant sentence, for all those that were part of the conspiracy.

    On a more serious note, as long as the discussion is about whether what Trump and his co-conspirators did is Treason by the strict legal definition or just by the common understanding of the word, well, that’s a good thing.

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  14. Kathy says:

    We are not at war with Russia. Whatever has happened here, it isn’t treason.

    Isn’t this a technicality? Were we at war with the USSR when Julius and Ethel were charged with treason?

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  15. Kathy says:

    @James Pearce:

    I don’t usually get involved in petty quarrels between users, but I need to make an exception here:

    You’ve jumped the shark.

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  16. Scott F. says:

    Trump’s Helsinki behavior didn’t strike me as something new, except maybe in the level of obviousness. This is Trump being Trump – not surprising, though clearly accumulating.

    It’s the cumulative effect that demands we shift our attention from Trump’s behavior to the Republicans in Congress. There’s little point anymore in pointing out the latest outrage from Donald – there’s no change to be had from that ignoramus. But, my god, the heat hasn’t been turned up nearly enough on his enablers in the GOP.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:

    But, my god, the heat hasn’t been turned up nearly enough on his enablers in the GOP.

    Completely agree. Aiding and abetting corruption is corruption. Aiding and abetting obstruction of justice is obstruction of justice. And support for a traitor makes you a traitor as well. The GOP is the party of treason. That fact should be shoved in their faces every chance we get.

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    Were we at war with the USSR when Julius and Ethel were charged with treason?

    See my note above. I thought the same thing, but when I looked it up, it turns out they were executed for “Conspiracy to Commit Espionage” and not treason.

  19. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    You’ve jumped the shark.

    I’ll just insert a post I just left on another, probably dead thread, as a kind of “For the Record” post:

    Here’s the deal with Pearce. He claims to be an anti-Trumper. But 100% of the time when Trump is caught up in some particularly horrible scandal, Pearce gets on here with the advice that we should just ignore it, and instead pursue some (always unnamed) other strategy. 100% of the time. He expands this to other Trump-like circumstances too. He “advised” us all that we were stupid to bring up Roy Moore’s creepy stalking of teenaged girls. He advised us, most emphatically, that Jim Jordan’s multiple accusers in the doctor-gropes-wrestlers scandal were all lying or misremembering and that it was a waste of time to try to use it against him in the election. (In fact, in that case he was disturbingly passionate about how obvious it was that the wrestlers were making things up and no matter what they said we shouldn’t believe them. To be honest, it was disturbing.)

    I’ve long wondered what Pearce’s deal was. Of course, it’s possible that he is sincere in his beliefs. But it is also possible that he is a traditional troll, i.e. someone who will say anything at all to provoke a reaction. There’s the bot theory, but I don’t think bots are that good yet. My pet theory is that he is the Russian or Trumpian equivalent of a Chinese “ten-cent-er”. This comes from the very disparaging term given to an estimated 1M recent college grads employed by the Chinese government to help police the internet. (It is used the same way we use “burger flipper” to denote someone who left college but has no meaningful job prospects.) The term comes from the fact that they are paid for each micro-interaction they have on Weibo or Weixin. In one variation, the word comes down that the government is unhappy with Apple (this really happened), and they start casually posting negative things about Apple. They get paid a little for each negative comment and get bonuses if people share or respond to these comments, negatively or positively. They have dozens or even hundreds of fake accounts.

    It may sound outlandish, but the Chinese are paying literally billions of dollars for these types of interactions. Why should we assume that they are only doing so inside their own country? And why should we assume it is limited to them?

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  20. MarkedMan says:

    Since I repeated that post above, I should also append my explanation of the term “ten-cent-er” below:

    (BTW, If anyone is motivated to look up the Chinese ten-cent-er, you should look up “wu mao dang”, “wumaodang” or “Fifty Cent Army”. When I lived in China, we expats called them ten-cent-ers because, a) it was roughly the value of five mao (wu mao) in US currency, and b) we had learned that it was better to use euphemisms for certain things rather than say them outright, even in English.)

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  21. James Pearce says:

    @Kathy:

    You’ve jumped the shark.

    Have I?

    The “Trump’s relationship with Putin is not technically treason, but we’re going to call it that for rhetorical reasons” is of the same quality as “Abortion is not technically murder, but we’re going to call it that for rhetorical reasons.”

    That is, the same poor quality.

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:
    Hmmm. Possible, certainly. Pearce has convinced no one, gained no allies here, and in fact has become something of an object of ridicule, yet he keeps coming back. Why? He refuses to ever take a stand on any issue, as far as anyone can tell he has no core beliefs, no ideology.

    My guess for the moment is that Pearce has family and friends who lurk, who know him IRL, and he’s playing to them. He has family and friends who are in the cult and Pearce is ‘defending’ them.

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  23. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    You know, we’re sidetracking ourselves by considering whether Trump’s committing treason or not. It doesn’t matter what the act is called, but what the act is.

    So, the Cheeto’s been weakening America, damaging its relations with allies, offering moral support and succor to America’s enemies (again, what a thing is; if you attack a country, you’re that country’s enemy), and all this qualifies glaringly as “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

    He’s also in the process of wrecking the US economy.

    If his base is going to applaud when he cravenly abases himself to an enemy, then there is no hope at all. And that’s just what they did.

    So we’ll have to wait for 2020, alas.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    My guess for the moment is that Pearce has family and friends who lurk, who know him IRL, and he’s playing to them. He has family and friends who are in the cult and Pearce is ‘defending’ them.

    Interesting. We have a wealth of possibilities here…

  25. MarkedMan says:

    @Kathy:

    You know, we’re sidetracking ourselves by considering whether Trump’s committing treason or not. It doesn’t matter what the act is called, but what the act is.

    On a logical level you are certainly right. But I think the visceral level is what is in play here. When Trumpoids loudly proclaim that we are idiots because “what Trump did can’t be treason because we are not in a shooting war”, they are helping to move the Overton window. It’s that change of discussion parameters that influences the non-engaged public. Every time “Treason” and “Trump” are uttered in the same sentence, the cause gets advanced.

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  26. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My pet theory is that he is the Russian or Trumpian equivalent of a Chinese “ten-cent-er”.

    An interesting theory, but this is too small a market for that, no? Just a dozen or so regulars, and the threads are ephemeral (even if they’re kept for all eternity in some server somewhere in the cloud).

    It doesn’t really matter to me. As per my usual practice, I’ll simply ignore him.

  27. drj says:

    I got sucked in on the treason-or-no-treason thing. Obviously for no good reason, but still…

    As there have been only two treason cases before the Supreme Court (in 1807 and 1945), the existing jurisprudence is far from unequivocal.

    Still, I found this: Paul Crane, “Did the Court Kill the Treason Charge?: Reassessing Cramer v. United States and Its Significance,” 36 Florida State University Law Review 635 (2009).

    p. 681:

    the Court [in 1945] explicitly stated that Congress could punish treasonous conduct under a different heading and without the procedural safeguards required by the Treason Clause.

    p. 684:

    Thus, the Court in Rosenberg made clear what Cramer had essentially already decided: it was permissible for prosecutors to indict someone on charges other than treason when a treason charge would not only have been possible but also appropriate. The lesson offered by Rosenberg and Cramer was that even if the offenses were similar (and perhaps interchangeable), the prosecutor was free to choose which crime to charge.

    Once it was clear that a prosecutor could bring charges other than treason for conduct also covered by the treason statute (and the Treason Clause), a rational prosecutor would most likely indict on the nontreason charge if it were easier to prove than a treason charge.

    In other words, the Rosenbergs could legally have been indicted for treason, even though there was no war going on between the US and the USSR:

    By 1954, Rosenberg and Cramer had firmly established that prosecutors could bring nontreason charges without the procedural safeguards associated with treason, even if the conduct at issue could also be punished as treason.

    So I guess Trump could actually be indicted for treason.

    More here.

  28. drj says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    As a matter of law, Steven is completely correct.

    Paul T. Crane (who, among other things, clerked for Chief Justice Roberts on the Supreme Court) appears to disagree.

    (I know: shameless appeal to authority.)

  29. A brief note: expansive definitions of “war” and “enemy” is what we did during the Bush administration and the War on a Terror. That was not wise at the time and is not wise now.

    I honestly think this history is worth considering before we all double down on that language now because we are angry.

  30. And at the end of the day, I simply cannot imagine a scenario where he is charged with treason.

    And yes, I do understand the legal v. rhetorical usage of the words.

    I just don’t think it is wise to create an opening about world meaning.

  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I’m for calling things what they are. It’s treason. The courts can argue the definitions and I’m perfectly happy to have the legal charges be something else, but the reality is that Trump is working for Putin. Russian money kept Trump’s failing wreck of a so-called ’empire’ afloat. Without Russian money, Trump would have gone broke. They saved his ass. They own his ass. A POTUS whose actions are controlled by a foreign power is a traitor.

    The use of the word may be premature politically, yet it’s the truth. And I’m not sure it’s even premature politically. The 40% have endorsed caging children and treason, they are a cult, not our political opponents in the usual sense, so no word will have any effect on them, they have surrendered their will. We have to accept that the most we can hope for from the cult is a reduction in enthusiasm which translates into no-shows at the polls.

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  32. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    How, then, would you qualify Trump’s actions? Serious question.

    The current best-case scenario is that Trump is willfully looking the other way while a hostile power is sabotaging elections in the US for his benefit (and to the detriment of American voters).

    The more likely scenario is that Trump has actively colluded with a hostile power and knowingly benefited from illegal acts committed by said power on US soil.

    The worst-case scenario? I’m not even going there.

    So how, exactly, would you qualify Trump’s actions, assuming the best-case scenario, without obscuring the enormity of what is going on? What’s your alternative?

    Or should we simply refuse to acknowledge the overarching theme that connects many of Trump’s more questionable actions? How does that help?

  33. Lit3Bolt says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I know, I know. Trump’s not going to be charged with “treason.” It will be espionage, obstruction of justice, racketeering, conspiracy, abuse of office, corruption, etc. And we could argue all day about legal rhetoric.

    But it’s like putting babies in jails at the border, then forcing them to act as their own lawyers in court. It’s child abuse. “Well, technically they’re not cages…”

    Sometimes, you just have to call a spade a spade. Everyone invested in NATO certainly believes it.

    If what we really want to do is a sloganeering competition, we can test market “Trump is technically not a traitor, he simply puts Russian interests first in everything he does” vs. “Trump is a traitor.” I know which one I like.

  34. wr says:

    @Michael Reynolds: :My guess for the moment is that Pearce has family and friends who lurk, who know him IRL, and he’s playing to them. He has family and friends who are in the cult and Pearce is ‘defending’ them.”

    There’s that. I’m guessing he’s bored and lonely — or bored and not lonely — and does this to amuse himself. Maybe he even had a point when he started, but now it’s turned into habit, so every message he posts is the same.

    There is also the frightening possibility that he is exactly how he portrays himself — that he really does believe he’s the smartest guy in any room, that he does have all the answers to the world’s problems but can’t be bothered to put them into words because his listeners aren’t worthy, that he is the only truly moral man around. But that’s actually too depressing to contemplate.

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  35. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I remember Frank Luntz, and how he encouraged Newt Gingrich to use more inflammatory language about Democrats. He recommended words like “corrupt,” “devour,” “greed,” “hypocrisy,” “liberal,” “sick,” and “traitors.” Those chickens are now coming home to roost, as you use “treason”, and some Dems say “abolish ICE”, and much, much more.

    This may “work” politically, but it loses something in the process. This makes me sad.

    (Bear in mind that I share most, if not all, of your politics. I think Trump habitually chooses that which helps him over that which helps the country. I don’t think he even conceptualizes doing anything else. I think it was easy to see that in him.)

  36. James Pearce says:

    @MarkedMan:

    My pet theory is that he is the Russian or Trumpian equivalent of a Chinese “ten-cent-er”.

    Let me clear it up for you.

    I’m a white male liberal who has been watching my ideological peers lose their fricking minds for the last 3-4 years, warning fairly consistently that the rise of identity politics would result in an utter disaster.

    And then Trump was elected…

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Pearce has convinced no one, gained no allies here, and in fact has become something of an object of ridicule, yet he keeps coming back. Why?

    I think you know why, Michael.

    1) The ridicule doesn’t stick.
    2) I’m more “convincing” than you’d like, and even if I’m not convincing, I provide food for thought. You can continue devaluing my contributions. See #1.
    3) Why do I keep coming back? I have asked myself that same question, especially after you and your “allies” thought you’d ridicule me into oblivion.

    And yet, I persist. Why? To reason with the reasonable, and to keep my conditioning up.

  37. @James Pearce: I will confess that I often find your reasoning problematic, if not hard to follow and arguing with you can be frustrating,

    Having said that, I don’t think trying to ridicule you away is fair or necessary.

  38. @drj: That’s fair. I think he engaging is a conspiracy to obstruct justice. I think he is failing to uphold his oath of office. I think he is unfit, as I stated in this post. I am not yet 100% convinced that he is acting willfully on behalf Russia in some cooperative sense, since I think he is shallow, egotistical, and stupid enough to be so worried about how having his victory tainted that he is willing to tank the investigation into Russian interference. I could go on, and I do realize that “traitor” and “treason” are easier terms.

    I do think it matters, in the long run, that “treason” is a very special category. I think it matters, too, to be careful about allowing the term to become partisan. That is dangerous.

    I also will reiterate that the notion that we have treason here creates the need, as this thread has shown, to start talking about Russia in terms of “enemy” and “war.” I again caution my liberal friends who should have learned the lessons of the post-9/11 world. Convincing the public that we were at war allowed, among other things, the Iraq invasion, waterboarding/”enhanced interrogation,” Guantanamo, the Patriot Act, increased surveillance of Americans, the assassination of an American by the US government, and even ICE (the creation of DHS and the reorg of immigration and border security was all about terrorism).

    Rhetoric does matter and letting rhetoric get out of hand is dangerous, especially that linked to war.

  39. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: I just wish you would put a shirt on.

  40. Gustopher says:

    @Doug Mataconis: How do you explain away “or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”?

    Is there case law determining who are “Enemies”, which effectively would rule that Russia is not an Enemy?

    What does “Aid and Comfort” mean?

    Honest questions. A plain text reading of the clause would say that Trump arguably is a traitor. Why is the plain text reading not the correct reading?

  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I think it matters, too, to be careful about allowing the term to become partisan. That is dangerous.

    Honestly, why? Treason as a formal charge has been used only a handful of times in the entire history of the country and the last time was, well, I’m not sure, but 70 years ago the Rosenbergs were NOT tried for treason. What is so dangerous? Watering down a term that for something no-one gets charge with?

  42. Leonard says:

    @Kathy: Are we voting? Can I nominate your constant Trump name-calling for the Sharkies?

  43. drj says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do think it matters, in the long run, that “treason” is a very special category.

    Fair enough. But if Trump doesn’t fit into that category, who does? Who do you think did more damage to the US? Convicted traitor Mildred Gillars or Donald J. Trump?

    I think it matters, too, to be careful about allowing the term to become partisan. That is dangerous.

    While I see your point, I’d argue that being careful also entails using the term when appropriate. If we accept that we cannot speak certain truths out of fear of some future partisan backlash, that’s dangerous, too.

    Also, I get the impression that one of the main reasons you don’t want to accuse Trump of treason is that you are not 100% sure whether he was “acting willfully on behalf Russia in some cooperative sense.” And the reason for that, you say, is Trump’s shallowness and stupidness.

    But we’re not talking about some poor sap who was tricked by the FBI into some silly plot, but the actual President of the United States of America, who, we may still assume, is not literally a moron.

    So yes, I could, in theory, accept the idea that Trump is insufficiently compos mentis to knowingly engage in treason. But that’s stretching the benefit of the doubt beyond its breaking point, IMHO.

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  44. @drj: I think “treason” would require active participation to harm the US–we get into espionage at that point. Covering up the investigation for personal gain is more obstruction of justice, which is impeachment (and criminal).

  45. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    Very interesting article at The Atlantic today about Trump as an “unpatriotic hypernationalist”.

    Pretty convincing (to me at least) that whether he’s a traitor or not, he’s certainly no patriot.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/07/the-unpatriotic-nationalism-of-donald-trump/565607/?utm_source=feed

  46. I will say this: this is not some argument (like the EC or “a republic v. a democracy”) where I am 100% certain of my position. I just think that we should be cautious and at least understand what treason means legally.

    It may yet be appropriate, but I do think it is another example of dangerous linguistic escalation in an era of polarization. Because, as has already happened in this thread, we have to deal with what to do with Trump supporters. Are they really supporting treason? And if you Grandma, Uncle, co-worker, or neighbor is supporting treason, how do you deal with them? We are already at a point wherein relationship are frayed and people are doubling down on their partisan tribe. This won’t help.

  47. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lit3Bolt (And all the others): In the end, he’s not likely to be charged with anything until 2020 or later. It may be wiser to fight battles that can be won for the time being; although, I’m not sure what those might be in a society as polarized as this one. We keep making arguments that because of point a or point b or point c, Trump is unfit for office. He’s unfit for office without regard to any new arguments anyone may wish to bring forward. Guess what? Half the country doesn’t give a fork!

    I will not join the Pearce brigade and advocate for, basically as I see it, sayin’ nuthin’, but until there is a sea change of the sort that propels voters out of the Republican Party that mimics the sea change that caused Clinton and others in the 90s to discover triangulation, I’m not sure where to go with this issue. YMMV, but if this is, in fact, a fight for the “soul” of ‘Murka, that fact that we call it “‘Murka” when we’re talking about “those people” may actually tell the story.

  48. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @drj:

    But we’re not talking about some poor sap who was tricked by the FBI into some silly plot, but the actual President of the United States of America, who, we may still assume, is not literally a moron.

    This is going to sound snarky–sorry, but that’s who I am–but I am no longer willing to assume your assertion. Yes, not in the literal sense of the word, in the vernacular/rhetorical sense (sort of as we are doing with “treason” at the moment), Trump is unequivocally a moron. It’s the at the core of what makes him unfit for office. Also, I wouldn’t cross the street to argue against the proposition that he has dementia issues, is learning disabled–not as fond of dyslexia, though, his handwriting is too good, but I’d go for ADHD and note that the getting up waaaaay early in the morning is consistent with that, and suffers from NPD as well as a basic intellectual laziness that transcends all of the above.

    TL/DR: Yeah, he’s a moron, and that’s not even the biggest problem. The 40-s0me % of people who don’t realize/are in denial about it are an even bigger problem. (Not good at being succinct.)

  49. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I will confess that I often find your reasoning problematic, if not hard to follow and arguing with you can be frustrating

    Wrong!

    Just kidding. All of that is true. (Sometimes my comments can barely be considered “reasoning,” I carry on several conversations at once, am way too obstinate and vague, so yeah, I can see it.)

    This stuff….not so much.

    He has family and friends who are in the cult and Pearce is ‘defending’ them.

    I mean, yes I have family– and self-chosen friends– in “the cult.” Doesn’t everybody?

    @Gustopher:

    I just wish you would put a shirt on.

    It’s your lucky day. Hope you’re not a Raiders fan though…

  50. Gustopher says:

    @James Pearce: woo-hoo!

  51. rachel says:

    If it’s not helpful to call Trump treasonous, I’m still left with faithless because that is what he has shown himself to be in all his dealings.

  52. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I just think that we should be cautious and at least understand what treason means legally.

    Serious question: why?

    I mean, we’re not talking about an actual court case. No charges have been filed, and (almost certainly) none will be. The technical legal parsing of ‘treason’ is not relevant — only the ordinary English meaning is.

    Let me offer an analogy. “Act of terrorism” is a term that is defined in US law — in multiple, mutually incompatible ways, as it happens. If a case ever goes to court that hangs on whether something was or wasn’t an act of terrorism, it’s going to get messy. But that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t ever describe something as terrorism in everyday conversation, or that the word simply cannot be used meaningfully.

    Legal definitions are only determinative in legal proceedings; lawyers don’t get to assert what words mean outside of statute. As a general rule, those words already had meanings before the lawyers co-opted them, and those meanings still apply.

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  53. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do think it is another example of dangerous linguistic escalation in an era of polarization

    Much of our current situation can be blamed on the media’s unwillingness to apply accurate descriptions of Trump’s behavior and proclivities, on the grounds that the factual and accurate terms are ‘extreme’ and ‘polarizing’.

    How, exactly, do you propose that one should convey that Trump consistently and apparently deliberately puts his personal interests and the interests of hostile powers (who coincidentally tampered with our election in order to help put him in the White House) ahead of those of America and her allies — without using the ‘T’ word? By robbing the analysis of its proper vocabulary, you also rob it of its ability to evoke appropriate outrage.

  54. I will admit, many of my concerns remain, but this thread is causing me to re-evaluate the rhetorical side of this discussion.

  55. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    By robbing the analysis of its proper vocabulary, you also rob it of its ability to evoke appropriate outrage.

    What makes you think “outrage” is going to be an effective weapon against Trump? The past 2-3 years seems to have tested this theory and found that Trump has been able to actually expand his power base despite the constant outrage. Don’t get me wrong, Trump is outrageous, so he’s come by the outrage honestly, but seeking to gin up even more in hopes that this outrage (or the next one) will be the one that finally takes him down seems like wasted energy.

    If Trump were a bacterial infection, he’d be the outrage-resistant variety and prescribing bigger and more doses of outrage will not only be ineffective, but it may also get the patient killed.

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  56. @James Pearce: That all remains to be seen. The first real test is November.

    Plus, his approval rating suggests he is far from outrage-resistant.

  57. James Pearce says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    his approval rating suggests he is far from outrage-resistant.

    Which approval ratings? His supporters love him.

  58. @James Pearce: Given the economy and other factors his numbers should be much higher. He is at historic lows given context.

  59. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    What makes you think “outrage” is going to be an effective weapon against Trump?

    DrDaveT: “Niacin is an important nutrient.”
    James Pearce: “What makes you think you can live on niacin alone!?”

    Seriously, you need to logic-check your replies. I didn’t say anything that remotely resembles claiming that outrage is a tactic, let alone a sufficient tactic. It is, however, a pretty good motivator.

  60. DrDaveTate says:

    @James Pearce:

    Trump has been able to actually expand his power base despite the constant outrage

    Apparently not enough people are outraged, then. Which was kinda my point — that this “constant outrage” you claim to see all around you is, in fact, limited to those people who saw past the ‘neutral’ reporting. I’m glad you are surrounded by such astute people, but — as you just pointed out! — those people aren’t quite typical.

  61. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    It is, however, a pretty good motivator.

    But for who?

    The wrong people. That’s who.

  62. DrDaveT says:

    @James Pearce:

    But for who? The wrong people.

    Where did you get this bizarre idea that outrage is somehow a zero-sum phenomenon, so that my outrage precludes one of “the right people” from being outraged?

    You are, quite literally, now arguing that not enough people are outraged at Trump because too many people are outraged at Trump, but they’re the wrong ones. Yogi Berra stands in awe.

    Let’s go for clarity. Are you saying that, if the media had described Trump’s actions and statements accurately, no additional people would have been outraged? Or that the additional people outraged would have been “the wrong ones”?

  63. An Interested Party says:

    Much of our current situation can be blamed on the media’s unwillingness to apply accurate descriptions of Trump’s behavior and proclivities, on the grounds that the factual and accurate terms are ‘extreme’ and ‘polarizing’.

    Indeed…I notice with disgust that most people in the media seem to have an allergic reaction to calling Trump a pathological liar, even though that’s exactly what he is…

  64. James Pearce says:

    @DrDaveT:

    Where did you get this bizarre idea that outrage is somehow a zero-sum phenomenon, so that my outrage precludes one of “the right people” from being outraged?

    Outraged mobs don’t build things. They tear them down. That may be appropriate in some circumstances –storm the Bastille!– but we need to re-orient ourselves away from outrage, a useless paralyzing emotion, toward actual diligence.

    “The media” has been “accurately describing Trump’s actions and statements” for over two years and it doesn’t matter, because “the media” isn’t one thing but a bifurcated and mistrusted information network that has no actual power.

    Donald Trump’s main skill is using the media to manipulate public perceptions of himself. Might that be the reason that the “Subscribe to the Times” method of opposition isn’t working. Adding “Donald Trump is a pathological liar” to every lede ain’t gonna help when the dude is just going to snort “Fake news!”