Words are extremely powerful. And so it is important that we use them properly.
On his show last night, Lawrence O’Donnell made the excellent point that none of us should be throwing around the word “treason” right now. It is a word with a very specific meaning and dispensing it like glitter isn’t helpful.
I think people use treason as a replacement for “betrayal.” But treason is a much stronger word that packs a bigger punch, so people want to use it.
Here’s the thing: No one can commit treason right now. Why? Because we are not in the midst of a war that Congress has formally declared. The last time they did that was 1942.
As was pointed out by Professor Steve Vladeck, from the University of Texas School of Law, the framers of the Constitution made the definition of treason very narrow because they had seen how it could be grossly abused otherwise. Read this and tell me if this sounds familiar:
“For much of the pre-revolutionary period in England, the accusation was a means of suppressing political dissent and punishing political opponents for crimes as trivial as contemplating a king’s future death (what was known as “compassing”), or speaking ill of the king (“lèse majesté”).”
I recommend his article, Americans have forgotten what ‘treason’ actually means — and how it can be abused which he wrote early last year. It’s excellent.
Let’s honor the intentions and the foresight of the founding fathers when it comes to this word. They were very deliberate in making sure our government could not produce a king with unfettered powers. Instead, get creative as you look for other words to describe the behavior of the president and his complicit associates. Here’s a start: