The past few days have revealed a growing concern over Donald Trump’s behavior. His rhetoric grows ever more piercing, as just this week he has attacked the family of fallen Muslim-American soldier Humayun Kahm, publicly denounced support of stalwart Republican figures Paul Ryan and Sen. John McCain, and asked the mother of a crying baby to remove it from an event.
Perhaps the most disturbing rhetoric he has spewed, however, is in suggesting hope that Russian President, Vladamir Putin was able to locate the “missing” emails of Hillary Clinton. Just hours after learning that there had been a successful hack of the DNC email servers, presumably by the Russians, this is what Trump had to say in a press conference.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing . . . I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Now the doors open to interpretation. Is this simply a matter of more vomitous rhetoric? Or is there something bigger here? The larger question is, do statements like this amount to treason?
In order to answer that question, we have to dig a little deeper. Treason is, in fact, the only crime discussed within the body of the Constitution, in Article III, section 3. Here is what it says:
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.
So what does this mean? It means that the definition of Treason, as outlined in the Constitution, is very narrow. The Founding Fathers meant it to be so, because of the troubling and growing history of political violence in the name of religion in Britain.
In the 300 years leading up to the American Revolution, the motivating or leading justification for political violence in England was religion. Violence reached peaked in the 1600s, by which there was a constant back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism. History buffs should check out The English Civil War (Oilver Cromwell, etc.), followed by the Glorious Revolution, during which royalty promised British Parliament a switch to Protestantism, guaranteeing certain gains of the Protestants wouldn’t be lost. Eventually, William & Mary were forced to accept the English Bill of Rights (the important precursor to our own, creating separation of powers and freedom of speech, among other things).
At the same time, the fully British, yet distinct American Colonies were evolving out of the impulse to let people stay “British,” but not live under British covenants, i.e., allowing them to live out their faith and life as the choose. This was an increasingly important value, as large populations of different ethnicities and religious groups (for example Jewish, Deist, Puritan, Protestant, and Catholic groups) were all co-inhabiting. Sometimes as many as 20-30 different religions groups lived throughout one city – all people descended from European nations whose peoples had been murdering one another for centuries.
The major thought was that as long as one was loyal to government, beliefs should’nt be a justification for removal of political or economic right. Thus, your “thought,” our what you believe, wasn’t enough for the charge of treason to be brought. In was only in actively supporting the enemies of the United States, was the charge of treason allowed. (So who is an enemy of the state? At this point we have very few “sworn” enemies, including terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and arguably North Korea [Cuba and Iran sort of were limited enemies – not at war with us, but with whom we had no diplomatic relations. Interaction could possibly be argued as Treasonous]).
After shedding some light on the topic, it seems that Trump’s suggestions wouldn’t even get him close to Treason as defined by our Constitution. So for now we must simply sit back and hope that his dangerously suggestive words will do enough damage to his campaign to help it spiral out of control.
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