Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Will Treason Mania Destroy America? – The Future of Freedom Foundation

Posted by M. C. on June 8, 2021

Politico, one of the most respected Washington publications, printed a piece titled, “What Ulysses Grant Can Teach Joe Biden about Putting Down Violent Insurrections.” The piece stressed, “Grant’s approach relied on a combination of brute military force and a drastic curtailment of civil liberties, yet it nevertheless has relevance for the current moment.” The article stressed the need for “overwhelming force” to suppress the type of people who violated the sacred space of the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

by James Bovard

At the start of the Biden era, America is being torn apart by more allegations of treason than at any time since the Civil War. Historian Henry Adams observed a century ago that politics “has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” And few things spur hatred more effectively than tarring all political opponents as traitors.American politics is increasingly becoming toxic because presidents nowadays are elective dictators.
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The Founding Fathers carved the Constitution in light of the horrific political abuses that had proliferated in England in prior centuries. That was why there was a narrow definition of treason in the Constitution: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. 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.”

After the end of Reconstruction, treason charges became relatively rare in American politics. Wars were probably the biggest propellants, with anyone who opposed American intervention abroad being tagged with the scarlet T. But by the late 1960s, when the futility of the Vietnam War was becoming clear, treason charges had largely lost their political clout. Gen. Alexander Haig, who later became Richard Nixon’s last White House chief of staff, denounced the Pentagon Papers as “devastating … a security breach of the greatest magnitude of anything I’ve ever seen … it’s treasonable” But the Nixon administration’s protests failed to sway the Supreme Court to block the New York Times from publishing the secret official records of decades of U.S. government deceit on Indochina.

Unfortunately, the political exploitation of the 9/11 attacks included reviving treason accusations against anyone who did not cheer George W. Bush’s promise to “rid the world of evil.” On December 6, 2001, Attorney General John Ashcroft informed the Senate Judiciary Committee, “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and … give ammunition to America’s enemies.” At that point, Bush had already suspended habeas corpus and his underlings were busy sabotaging laws limiting federal surveillance of American citizens. But regardless of how many civil liberties were actually destroyed, critics were traitors.

Run-up to 2016

While Bush was rehabilitated by the mainstream media in recent years as a reward for criticizing Donald Trump, his 2004 reelection campaign relied on tacit treason accusations to tarnish Democrats, liberals, and even a few libertarians. At the 2004 Republican National Convention, keynote speaker Democratic Sen. Zell Miller implied that political opposition was treason: “Now, at the same time young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats’ manic obsession to bring down our commander in chief.”

There was no evidence that such criticism of Bush’s foreign policy was ripping America asunder — but trumpeting the accusation made Bush critics appear a pox on the land. Other Republicans used the same theme. John Thune, the Republican U.S. Senate candidate in South Dakota, denounced Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle: “His words embolden the enemy.” Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman condemned the Kerry campaign for “parroting the rhetoric of terrorists” and warned, “The enemy listens. All listen to what the president said, and all listen to what Senator Kerry said.” Former New York City Police Commissioner Bernie Kerik, stumping for Bush, told audiences, “Political criticism is our enemy’s best friend.” Six weeks before the 2004 election, the Washington Post noted, “President Bush and leading Republicans are increasingly charging that Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry and others in his party are giving comfort to terrorists and undermining the war in Iraq — a line of attack that tests the conventional bounds of political rhetoric.”

In 2006, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration was illegally seizing personal financial information of millions of Americans. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, declared, “We’re at war, and for the Times to release information about secret operations and methods is treasonous.” Sen. Jim Bunning (R-Ky.) also labeled the Times guilty of “treason.” Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) suggested that the Times had become the “Benedict Arnold Press.”

After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, treason allegations simmered down, except for occasional allegations that Obama was a secret Muslim scheming to impose Sharia law on America. Former NSA employee Edward Snowden’s leak of NSA documents was the biggest treason boomlet of that era. Numerous congressmen called for Snowden to be charged with treason, though the Founding Fathers neglected to include “embarrassing the government” in the Constitution’s definition of treason. House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) and former NSA chief Michael Hayden publicly joked about putting Snowden on a government kill list.

But the Snowden uproar was a kerfuffle compared to the Pandora’s box opened by the 2016 presidential campaign. Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton repeatedly effectively asserted that Republican nominee Donald Trump was a Russian tool, betraying the nation.

Treason in the White House

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This post was written by: James Bovard

James Bovard is a policy adviser to The Future of Freedom Foundation. He is a USA Today columnist and has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, New Republic, Reader’s Digest, Playboy, American Spectator, Investors Business Daily, and many other publications. He is the author of Freedom Frauds: Hard Lessons in American Liberty (2017, published by FFF); Public Policy Hooligan (2012); Attention Deficit Democracy (2006); The Bush Betrayal (2004); Terrorism and Tyranny (2003); Feeling Your Pain (2000); Freedom in Chains (1999); Shakedown (1995); Lost Rights (1994); The Fair Trade Fraud (1991); and The Farm Fiasco (1989). He was the 1995 co-recipient of the Thomas Szasz Award for Civil Liberties work, awarded by the Center for Independent Thought, and the recipient of the 1996 Freedom Fund Award from the Firearms Civil Rights Defense Fund of the National Rifle Association. His book Lost Rights received the Mencken Award as Book of the Year from the Free Press Association. His Terrorism and Tyranny won Laissez Faire Book’s Lysander Spooner award for the Best Book on Liberty in 2003. Read his blog. Send him email.

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