Back in the ’60s, there was a self-published book by John A. Stormer called “None Dare Call It Treason.”
We seem to have gotten past that.
Now, for a good time, I suggest someone make a version of that meme with an image of Trump and post it to Facebook and Twitter. Seriously. Go ahead, I’ll watch — I have too many outraged nutcases on my Twitter as it is, but I’d love to watch.
In the meantime, though, the idea keeps popping up — in fact, just in the last few days I’ve seen many of the usual suspects out and out declaring that Trump is a traitor, or that Flynn is a traitor, along with plenty of people still saying the Obama is a traitor and Hillary Clinton is a traitor, and frankly I have had enough. This is a bit of a pet peeve anyway, and now it’s completely out of hand.
So, here’s a quiz question for you: what is the only crime actually defined in the Constitution? (Jeopardy music plays.) Time’s up. Given the headline and subject of this column, you should have guessed “treason.” (But see this FindLaw article. The difference being “defined” versus “named”.)
Here’s the definition, straight from the Constitution, Article III, section 3, clause 1:
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.
The Heritage Foundation has a very interesting discussion of the reasons, but they come down to this: treason basically means a breach of trust, with high treason meaning a breach of faith with one’s Sovereign. This was a definition that turned out to be endlessly flexible when you got crossways with the current king — as Sir Thomas More, Anne Boleyn, and Catherine Howard learned — or even with a future king, as Sir Walter Raleigh learned. The Founders were particularly sensitive to this, since they were on the hook themselves. So they purposefully made the definition of treason very narrow. As Publius (James Madison) put it in Federalist Paper #43:
As treason may be committed against the United States, the authority of the United States ought to be enabled to punish it. But as new-fangled and artificial treasons have been the great engines by which violent factions, the natural offspring of free government, have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other, the convention have, with great judgment, opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger, by inserting a constitutional definition of the crime, fixing the proof necessary for conviction of it, and restraining the Congress, even in punishing it, from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author. [Emphasis mine.]
It often amazes me just how forward-thinking the Founders were. Here, in one sentence, Madison explains exactly why in America, it’s not treason to disagree with the president, or to oppose the president, or to defy or disrespect the president. It’s not “treason” and it’s not “high treason” either, a crime that doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in the United States.