President Donald Trump frequently invokes the word “treason” toward those who oppose his presidency.
On Thursday, during an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump ranted about the testimonies of former special counsel Robert Mueller, calling it an “absolute catastrophe for our country.”
“This was treason. This was high crimes. This was everything as bad a definition as you want to come up with,” Trump added. “This should never be allowed to happen to our country again.”
The use of the word “treason” is not something we should take lightly: the definition, according to U.S. Code, is a crime for which the ultimate punishment is death.
Treason is typically reserved for actions that do harm to our country in a way that would give aid to our nation’s enemies in a direct manner. Providing military secrets to another foreign power, for example, may fit the definition of treason.
TRUMP on the Russia investigation: "This is an absolute catastrophe for our country … this was treason, this was high crimes, this was everything — as bad a definition as you want to come up with. This should never be allowed to happen to our country again. pic.twitter.com/x1dAJMF8sP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 26, 2019
But the way in which Trump uses the word is very loose — and flawed. It’s comparable to when Trump uses the words “fake news” to describe media content he finds disfavorable to him, rather than it actually being fake. Much in that same vein, he uses “treason” to describe people or institutions he finds abhorrent, in his opinion, but not actually fitting the definition of the word itself.
Then again, Trump may indeed view their actions as treason, because, as president, he sees his own statements and actions as absolute, as unchallengeable. He stated this month that Article II of the Constitution grants him tremendous powers to do whatever he wants, without worry over whether his actions are legal or not. This interpretation of his executive powers is dangerous, and needs to be countered by actions from the other two branches of government when it’s appropriate for them to do so.
So, too, should his comments on treason be challenged. He may not think the word is important or worthy of reservation, but it certainly is — especially when the most ravenous of his supporters latch onto it as well.
We need only remember that it was Cesar Sayoc, who had a deep infatuation with Trump, who sent out pipe bomb packages to several of Trump’s political adversaries. Sayoc had used the word “treason” to describe some of his intended targets, much like Trump has done in the past.
Treason is too serious of a term to be taken lightly. We mustn’t become complacent with Trump trying to distort it or use it so freely. Doing so sets an undesirable precedent, where a person’s loyalty to this country can be questioned in the deepest of senses, merely because they happen to dissent with the president’s opinions. That’s an America that would no longer be allowed to call itself “free.”