President Donald J. Trump posed the question while speaking to Ohio factory workers.
President Trump on Monday accused Democrats who did not clap during his State of the Union address of being un-American and even treasonous. His remarks came in a rambling, discursive speech at a factory in Ohio, during which he celebrated his revival of the American economy as the stock market plummeted by more than 1,000 points.
This may not be the most objectively factual description of what was said, as he was referring to the refusal of Democrats to applaud his entry into the congressional chamber rather than clapping “during” his State of the Union speech. No doubt it hurt his feelings to be the only president to have people turn their back on him as he walked down the aisle.
The temporal connection to a huge drop in the stock market is factually correct, though there is a suggestion that the two things are somehow causally related. Whether this was intentional, to undermine any claim that the market’s rise over the past year should inure to Darth Cheeto’s benefit, or merely fortuitous, is unclear. It happened, but correlation doesn’t prove causation. Not even at the New York Times when it really, really wants it to.
Then came the words that made a million talking heads explode:
“Can we call that treason?” Mr. Trump said of the stone-faced reaction of Democrats to his speech. “Why not? I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
Is this an outrage, that the president of the United States suggests that his political adversaries engaged in treason? Treason is a very serious thing, a heinous allegation. But Trump isn’t a serious speaker, unfamiliar as he is with any of those complex legal words. If there’s any doubt, his sentence after his use of the T-word makes it clear: “they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
First, this isn’t the definition of treason, and the foremost thing established by Trump using the word is that he either doesn’t know what the word means, or (giving him credit he hasn’t quite earned) assumes people who support him don’t know what the word means. It’s like using the word “rape” at a Gender Studies conference.
Then there’s the question of whether the Democrats’ lack of graciousness reflects anything about love of country or love of Trump. There is an argument to be made that the office of president, if not its holder, deserves respect. But then, if Trump’s foremost virtue is shredding norms of behavior, then it’s hypocritical to expect the Dems to adhere to the very norms of propriety and tradition Trump is destroying.
But the argument raised after-the-fact is that the utterance of the word Treason by a president carries serious significance, great gravitas, and is therefore a singular wrong. Is anything that comes out of Trump’s mouth (or his thumbs) to be taken seriously? Even at face value?
Or is the president like the guy whose reputation is so bad that he can’t be defamed? His inability to express an articulate thought, to use a word with a clear appreciation of its meaning, to actually do anything about his random, throw-away utterances, makes this more fodder for the screaming mob but otherwise just another instance of Trump being Trump.
Is there nothing to see here or are we to start taking every misused word by Trump seriously, such that the legal ramifications of his words matters?
*Yes, I know it’s Wednesday, but don’t be a slave to the calendar. Tuesday Talk rules apply.