‘The Instincts Of An Authoritarian w/Mannerisms Of An Insult Comic’ Trump Redefines Treason

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Children mimic and imitate and use words they don’t know the meaning of. So do Republicans. The term “fake news” was co-opted by Trump to define any information that he doesn’t like or agree with. Now “treason” is the new buzz word of the day. Trump told an audience in Ohio Monday that the Democrats were treasonous for not giving him the sycophancy at the State of the Union address that he has come to expect from his Republican brethren. At the time Trump is referencing, he was touting the “lowest rate of unemployment in history for blacks and hispanics,” a statistic which Trump had nothing to do with, it’s a hold over from the Obama administration’s good works. Democrats had ample reason not to be responsive, let alone enthuse at this falsehood. Take a listen at how Trump twisted the fact to his advantage.

This is not the first time the “T-word” has been used by Trump. Trump was unhappy about FBI agent Peter Strzok texting unflattering messages about Trump to co-worker Lisa Page. “By the way, that’s a treasonous act,” he  told the Wall Street Journal. “What he tweeted to his lover is a treasonous act.” Like fake news, treason is now defined as anything Trump the tyrant doesn’t like to hear about himself. New York Magazine:

One of the things that has made the Donald Trump political experience so peculiar is that he combines the instincts of an authoritarian with the mannerisms of an insult comic. Neither of these traits is a familiar element of electoral politics in the United States (certainly not at the presidential level). And as strange as they are individually, they are even more bizarre in combination.

It is totally beyond the pale for a president to describe the opposing party as having committed treason for failing to applaud his speech. It is the logic and rhetoric of authoritarianism in its purest form. But if Trump does it in the middle of a Don Rickles–style riff, does that make it better? Worse? Just weirder?

Treason is a crime punishable by death, but that acts as no deterrent to Donald Trump. The Washington Post reports that in eight years George W. Bush never used the word treason publicly even once. Obama used it twice, also in eight years. In Trump’s Alice In Wonderland form, the words mean what he wants them to mean, but nevertheless silent protest during a speech does not constitute treason. Washington Post:

It is not treasonous, but it is un-American, actually, to accuse your political opponents of a crime against the nation for constitutionally protected dissent. It should not be necessary to spell this out, but here we are. The president does not understand the first thing about the country he was elected to lead, or about the Constitution that he swore to uphold.

[…] Indeed, the Constitution gets hyper-technical: “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 reason for this specificity, as University of California at Davis law professor Carlton F.W. Larson has explained, is that the framers were concerned that accusations of treason not be transformed into criminal cudgels against political enemies.

That’s exactly what Trump has done, is weaponize the word treason as a political tool against his enemies. Even the conservatives are taking him to task on this one. National Review:

[…] he’s basically openly mocking the idea that words in politics mean anything at all. Say what you want about calling your opponents traitors and wanting it taken seriously, at least it’s an ethos. But then, that’s the subversive, somewhat cleansing but ultimately corrosive part of Trump’s brand of political performance art: he’s talking to people who by and large think that politicians never mean anything they say, and he’s out there telling them, you’re right. We can say anything we want and none of it matters. It’s all a racket. Hey, how ’bout you and I call each other traitors and then punch the clock at the end of the day and get a drink together? Maybe our political class really has earned being treated this way, but every time Trump does it, he makes it harder to rebuild the broken norms he inherited and has treated with such contempt.

The genie is out of the bottle and this isn’t going away any time soon. Once again, Trump has cheapened the value of a significant word or concept by misusing it. He has diluted the potency of language and one more time, he has toxified civil discourse with his particular brand of insult and idiocy. He’s been called the “Ambassador of the Post Truth Society.” Barack Obama said in a recent interview with David Letterman that leading the country involves “shaping attitudes, shaping culture, increasing awareness.” The attitudes and culture of our country are getting bent, twisted, and warped daily.  Awareness is retrograde and viewed through a glass darkly, all reflective of our un-leader.

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