This column has been hoping for a few years that the discourse conducted by the President of the United States would always remain above that occurring in the pages of the New York Times. But such hopes seem unlikely to be fulfilled any time soon.
Times publisher A.G. Sulzbergerwrites in a Journal op-ed [Thursday] about the latest reckless rhetoric from Donald Trump:
First it was “the failing New York Times.” Then “fake news.” Then “enemy of the people.” President Trump’s escalating attacks on the New York Times have paralleled his broader barrage on American media. He’s gone from misrepresenting our business, to assaulting our integrity, to demonizing our journalists with a phrase that’s been used by generations of demagogues.
Now the president has escalated his attacks even further, accusing the Times of a crime so grave it is punishable by death.
On Saturday, Mr. Trump said the Times had committed “a virtual act of treason.” The charge, levied on Twitter , was in response to an article about American cyber incursions into the Russian electrical grid that his own aides had assured our reporters raised no national-security concerns…
Treason is the only crime explicitly defined in the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers knew the word’s history as a weapon wielded by tyrants to justify the persecution and execution of enemies. They made its definition immutable—Article III reads: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”—to ensure that it couldn’t be abused by politicians for self-serving attacks on rivals or critics. The crime is almost never prosecuted, but Mr. Trump has used the word dozens of times.
This column agrees with Mr. Sulzberger’s message and hopes it will be amplified and advanced by better messengers.
There also remains the hope that Mr. Sulzberger’s employees will consider living by the standards he demands of the President.
“Trump, Treasonous Traitor” was the headline on a Times column by Charles M. Blow in July of 2018. Wrote Mr. Blow:
Put aside whatever suspicions you may have about whether Donald Trump will be directly implicated in the Russia investigation.
Trump is right now, before our eyes and those of the world, committing an unbelievable and unforgivable crime against this country. It is his failure to defend.
The astounding argument was that even if the Russia collusion conspiracy theory fell apart—as it did eight months later with the completion of the Mueller report—it was still reasonable to accuse Mr. Trump of treason because his administration was insufficiently tough on Russia, in the estimation of Charles M. Blow. With sledgehammer subtlety, the Times columnist added that “America is being betrayed by its own president” and reiterated that “Trump is a traitor”.
Treason has been a recurring theme at the Times. “Already, Trump has flirted with treason,” wrote Timothy Egan shortly before Mr. Trump took office in January of 2017. By July of that year columnist Maureen Dowd seems to have concluded that the Trump administration had gone fully medieval:
Wicked siblings willing to do anything for power. Secret deals with sworn enemies. The shock of a dead body. A Wall. Foreign bawds, guns for hire, and snakes. Back-stabbing, betrayal and charges of treason. Little birds spying and tattling. A maniacal mad king and his court of scheming, self-absorbed princesses and princelings, swathed in the finest silk and the most brazen immorality, ruling with total disregard for the good of their people.
The night in Washington is dark and full of terrors. The Game of Trump has brought a pagan lawlessness never before seen in the capital.
Perhaps readers were gratified to see a Times columnist go on record against pagan lawlessness, but the talk of treason continued. “When the President Isn’t A Patriot,” read one 2017 Times headline. The story now appears online under the headline: “Odds Are, Russia Owns Trump.” “The Real Coup Plot Is Trump’s” was another 2017 Times doozy.
Times Columnist Paul Krugman has been peppering his screeds with treason references for years. But instead of simply assailing the President he prefers to accuse tens of millions of other Americans of being willing to sell out their country.
In a 2017 Times blog post entitled, “The New Climate Of Treason,” Mr. Krugman wrote that “essentially the whole GOP turns out to be OK with the moral equivalent of treason if it benefits their side in domestic politics.”
In another piece that year the Times fixture wrote that his partisan opponents appeared to be willing to betray their country not just for power, but for money as well. In “Judas, Tax Cuts and the Great Betrayal,” Mr. Krugman wrote that “almost an entire party appears to have decided that potential treason in the cause of tax cuts for the wealthy is no vice.”
By 2018, Mr. Krugman was so busy making separate accusations about the millions of Americans who disagree with him that he almost didn’t have room to include an allegation of treason. But he somehow managed to find the space:
For more than a generation, the Republican establishment was able to keep this bait-and-switch under control: racism was deployed to win elections, then was muted afterwards, partly to preserve plausible deniability, partly to focus on the real priority of enriching the one percent. But with Trump they lost control: the base wanted someone who was blatantly racist and wouldn’t pretend to be anything else. And that’s what they got, with corruption, incompetence, and treason on the side.
Treason on the side. Just a casual step across the line that the Times publisher rightly scores the President for crossing. Mr. Krugman has so thoroughly convinced himself of the wickedness of people who disagree with him that he now asserts that one of America’s two main political parties “will do anything, even betray the nation, in its pursuit of partisan advantage.”
Here’s hoping that both the President and the opinion writers at the New York Times will choose their words more carefully.