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 Opinion: Why 47 Republican Senators Should NOT Be Viewed as Traitors

PoliticsBy William Boardman

You don’t get to be a traitor just by acting treasonously

Just because 47 Republican Senators want to redefine the Constitution and establish their own redoubt of lawlessness doesn’t make them traitors, even if tweets at #47Traitors suggest otherwise. Maybe it makes them individually impeachable, or recallable, or otherwise removable from office, but who has the time and energy to make the effort to do that? After all, the offense committed by the 47 Republican Senators was only a one-page open letter to the “Leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran” as a generic category, not by individual name (the only one named in the body of the letter is reportedly near death).

The 47 Republican Senators make sure their own names appear on the three pages following the one-page letter drafted by freshman senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, whose 2014 election cost him $13.9 million, much of it coming from Israeli-hardline sources. Given that Cotton is on record claiming falsely that Mexican drug gangs are allied with ISIS (the Islamic State), lying about food stamps, and calling for keeping Guantanamo open and adding prisoners, it’s not surprising there’s a far right boomlet to run Cotton for president. In 2013, Cotton proposed anti-Iranian legislation that would punish sons and daughters for the merely alleged sins of fathers, no proof needed. That’s a “Corruption of Blood” measure that the Constitution explicitly forbids in cases of treason by Americans. In this context, Cotton’s threatening letter to unnamed Iranian leaders hardly seems extreme.

If demagoguery and fear-mongering were treason, there would be almost no one left in Congress. ...

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Bogus pontification in support of political positioning is never pretty, but it’s hardly the sole province of Republicans, even if they’re better at it than most. Dishonest posturing to gull the ignorant is hardly the stuff of treason. Real treason requires some real courage.

Treason is a limited-opportunity option in the Constitution

The Constitution is very clear as to what constitutes treason, and it’s not just any lawless, stupid, unprincipled act that threatens to draw the nation into a war with Iran that only a tiny minority of Americans and some Israelis really want, or even want to risk. The Constitution grants American senators broad latitude to act recklessly and without regard for the common good and still not commit treason. That seemed like a good idea in the 18th century, and maybe it’s still a good idea, but it’s also a solid part of the Constitution that governs us all, even though these 47 Republicans would just as soon do without it, and much of the time they do without it rather openly.

For those who don’t have it on the tips of their tongues or elsewhere, the Constitution says all it has to say about treason in Article III, section 3:

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.

The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.

That’s it, and it’s a tough argument to make against these 47 Republican Senators. Sure, they or their predecessors have been levying a kind of war against the president since 2009, but that’s not “levying war” in the 18th century sense of the term, and besides they aren’t attacking the United States, or any states, just the president – and that’s a whole different thing, since they decided long ago he had no business being president anyway, and anyone with any sense should be able to see that.

And these 47 Republican Senators aren’t “adhering to their enemies” constitutionally, since the phrase means enemies of THE STATES, not the president. Since lots of states are also enemies of the president, what’s so bad here if you’re a senator from one of those states? These senators can’t commit treason against the United States in any ordinary sense, since they were elected on the basis of a rigidly stupid ideology of opposition to the United States. Rational, patriotic support of principles like a more perfectunion or the general welfare would be an ethical betrayal of their states’ interests. What some are calling treason is really a perverse kind of loyalty. What it comes down to is that 47 Republican Senators can’t commit treason by “adhering to their enemies,” because those 47 Republican Senators ARE enemies of the United States. You can’t very well blame them for adhering to themselves, now can you?

And here’s the beauty part: Even if, by some distorted and unjust judicial process, someone managed somehow to convict 47 Republican Senators of treason, who gets to declare the punishment for treason? The Congress gets to declare the punishment for treason, and who’s in Congress? Congress includes the 47 Republican Senators charged by the Constitution with determining their own punishment. How’s that likely to work out?

So it’s pretty simple, really, and all those high-minded folks carrying on in high dudgeon about 47 Republican Senators committing treason or being traitors or acting out some other dastardly whatever, they really don’t have a case. What the unofficial arbiters of political correctness should pay a lot more attention to is where they themselves have been for the past 50 years. How much have the self-satisfied tut-tutters contributed to our current chaotic mode of national governance: stamping your foot and screaming “do it my way”? These official and unofficial enforcers of convention were more than happy to let lawless unaccountability pass when President Reagan did it. Those who claimed to know “what’s best for the country” turned a blind eye (and dulled brain) to an administration’s crimes that included trading arms for hostages and running an illegal war that supported the international drug trade. So it’s really no logical surprise 35 years later to have 47 Republican Senators attacking the presidency as if it were part of some other country’s government. Despicable, to be sure, but unworthy of being called treason.

Whose national interests do 47 Republican Senators actually defend?

Conversely, when 47 Republic Senators act as if they are part of some other country’s government, that’s not treason either, it’s a more mundane betrayal of their oath of office, the fundamentally non-partisan sellout for the sake of ideology and/or hard cash.

But wait, the 47 Republican Senators might argue: Our letter is just a friendly note to Iran’s leaders trying to help them understand how our government works (although technically, the letter is an example of how our government doesn’t work). The letter suggests that Iranian leaders “may not fully understand our constitutional system.” The letter is also evidence that 47 Republican Senators don’t want “our constitutional system” to work, whether they understand it or not. In the real world, executive agreements between countries comprise more than 90% of all treaty-like arrangements (including treaties) internationally, according to the Wall Street Journal. Those 47 Republican Senators may not be traitors, but they have done the United States no service by taking a bold stand against a possible executive agreement between the US and Iran, even though it does not yet exist.

As evidence, the open letter from 47 Republican Senators can serve as a collective confession of their intent to keep war alive. As a metaphor, the open letter from 47 Republican Senators is an example of how ayatollahs talk to ayatollahs.


William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.


Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News.


[21 March 2015]

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