One of Donald Trump’s favorite words of-late seems to be the word “Treason,” but he seems to not understand what the word means, on any level.
For a few days following the release of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, Trump’s favorite word was “exoneration,” falsely claiming that the report cleared him of all charges, even though it demonstrably does not. Since then, however, he’s moved on to making frequent use of the word “treason,” usually in the context of suggesting retribution for the individuals responsible for the Russia investigation.
A few examples, among the 26 times he had used the word as of 8:45 a.m. Eastern Time today, are provided by The Bangor Daily News.
“what the Democrats are doing with the Border is TREASONOUS.”
“It was really treason. … You are talking about major, major treason.”
So has anyone committed treason since Trump was inaugurated? Not even close.
The Dictionary Definition
According to Dictionary.com, “Treason” is defined as:
1. the offense of acting to overthrow one’s government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one’s sovereign or to one’s state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.
Monarchs, despots, and other individuals with power have oft used the dictionary definition of the word to exact vengeance on their enemies, generally on the assumption that “treason” is whatever the ruler says it is.
The Constitutional Definition
Understanding full well the problems that could result from politicians being able to decide for themselves what constitutes treason and acting accordingly, the writers of the Constitution took great care to write their own definition of the word in the founding document. In fact, so zealous were the framers about protecting against a despot using “treason” as a tool against his enemies that the document’s writers wrote an extremely narrow definition of the word.
“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 Who’s Really Committed Treason Of Late?
No one, because no American has levied war against the U.S. or adhered to their enemies or given them aid and comfort. At least, not since the Trump administration.
The Constitution is abundantly clear: doing something the president doesn’t like isn’t treason. Nor is refusing to acquiesce to his demands. Neither is conducting an investigation into his actions, even if that investigation fails to turn up proof of any crimes.
In fact, so loathe is the Justice Department to prosecute treason that no one has been convicted of it in nearly seven decades. As CBS News reports, the last person convicted of treason in the U.S. was Tomoya Kawakita, a Japanese-American sentenced to death in 1952 for tormenting American prisoners of war during World War II. Even so, then-resident Eisenhower commuted Kawakita’s sentence to life imprisonment.
Not even John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban,” who almost certainly provided aid and comfort to the country’s enemies (by joining the terrorist organization and carrying out its goals), was tried for treason. Rather, he pleaded guilty to supplying services to the Taliban and carrying an explosive during the commission of a felony.
What It Means For Trump
Trump can certainly continue to claim that he’s the victim of a treasonous plot, as is his right under the First Amendment’s free speech protections. And the fact that none of his political adversaries have done anything of the sort is unlikely to stop him. What is unlikely, however, is that anyone will be charged with treason simply because Donald Trump doesn’t like what they’ve done or not done.