Disagreement Isn’t Treason

In real life, I’ve got friends from all over the political spectrum. From Trotskyites (really) to borderline fascists, I’ve shared meals, walks and weeks with men and women far from my center-left point of view. After all, even the communist may be a pleasant companion while hiking, and the John Bircher may be a good chess player and conversationalist—until the topic of fluoridation comes up.

With social media, the field becomes even broader and weirder. I’ve also got Facebook Friends who are outside any spectrum, any measure of political conservatism or liberalism. This last sentence can be read as “thanks to the First Amendment, people can spew poisonous nonsense all the live-long day.” Or “free speech is protected; freedom from bat-shit craziness is a pious dream for some.”

So . . . I’m a defender of people’s right to rant and rave while recognizing that’s what they’re doing. That said, I have grown tired of the word “treason” being used to mean “an act of which I strongly disapprove.” Just now, for example, my Facebook feed showed a picture of New Hampshire’s two senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, labeling them “two treasonous gutter rats” for not voting for a budget bill unless it included provisions for DACA participants. Now, I think it’s disingenuous bordering on dishonest for Democrats to use a government shutdown to force action on a particular issue, particularly given the party’s holier-than-thou rhetoric five years ago when Republicans did the same damned thing. Not only is it ethically suspect, I think it’s also politically stupid, for the inconvenience—real or imagined—of a shutdown will simply make immigration reform more difficult.

While I like the sound of “treasonous gutter rats,” I like accuracy and honesty more. As I understand the word, “treason” involves trying to overthrow one’s government. aiding its enemies in time of war or murdering its leader. Stupid, short-sighted political grandstanding is not treasonous; it is stupid, short-sighted political grandstanding. Using the harsh and crime-tinged label “treason” simply cheapens the word, which carries, by the way, the death penalty as a possible punishment.

Before you send me notes of support, my Democrat friends, let me point out another hyperbolic use of the word treason. In Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury, Steve Bannon calls “treasonous” the meeting at Trump Tower among Russian emissaries, Russian attorneys, Russian translators, Russian pop-music impresarios and three high-ranking Trump campaign officials, two of whom are related to the president. That meeting was not treasonous, for we are not at war with Russia (cyber doesn’t count), and anyway they discussed adoption of Russian babies. Trump, Jr., Kushner and Manafort may have been criminally stupid, but they were not treasonous. No matter what laws they may have broken, they are not traitors and should not be shot.

And what a happy thought that is to begin the week! In these two cases, neither Democrats nor Republicans are treasonous and bound for execution. I do dearly love my country and its possibilities, but I’m often reminded of Chesterton’s “Saying ‘My country right or wrong’ is like saying ‘My mother drunk or sober.’”

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