Donald J. Trump: Traitor

The Coup Attempt

“There is an unfolding assault taking place in America today,” President Biden said in Philadelphia on July 13. “An attempt to suppress and subvert the right to vote in fair and free elections, an assault on democracy, an assault on liberty, an assault on who we are — who we are as Americans.”

All the world knows who is leading that assault: Donald Trump. Why then isn’t the President, or Democrats, or liberal and progressive opinion writers calling Trump and his high-ranking followers traitors? Not just “fascists” and “autocrats” but traitors. Aren’t the Trumpists committing treason by actively subverting constitutional democracy, the very fabric of our political system?

Trump and company have engaged in far more than undermining voting rights. Between November 4 and the January 6 insurrection, Trump spent virtually all his time trying to overturn the election results, even though his own campaign staff knew that claims of election fraud were baseless.

One of Trump’s lawyers tried to sell Republican leaders on a six-point plan for Vice President Mike Pence to throw out election results in six states.

Trump pressured leaders of the justice department to find the election fraudulent, and when they demurred he said “Just say the election was corrupt. I’ll do the rest” along with Republicans.

Jeffrey Clark, a Trump supporter at the justice department, composed a letter which, had it gone out, amounted to “an attempted coup happening not only with the knowledge of Trump, but at his behest,” as Chris Cillizza of CNN puts it. It is impossible to imagine the chaos that would have ensued had other justice department officials agreed to Trump’s demand.

In the end Trump and associates encouraged mob violence—“What I wanted is what they wanted,” he said of his January 6 speech to supporters—to stop the electoral process in Congress. He expressed “delight” as he watched the riot at the Capitol unfold on TV. As Trump urged openly and in private, he wanted Pence to refuse to certify Biden’s victory—in short, prevent the peaceful transfer of power. General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said (according to the Philip Rucker-Carol Leonnig book, I Alone Can Fix It) that Trump’s speech was a “Reichstag moment,” “the gospel of the Führer.” Sounds to me like promoting a coup. Isn’t that treason?

Trump’s Treason

Senator Richard Blumenthal rightly concludes that Trump acted “intently and concertedly” to overthrow the election results. And Trump’s not done: He continues to push supporters in several states to audit the November vote numbers, even though there isn’t a ghost of a chance anything will change.

But, as Steve Schmidt says, Trump’s purpose is to cause chaos. At every level of American government we find half-crazed conspiracy mongers desperate to show their loyalty to Trump, not just by endlessly repeating the Big Lie but, even more dangerously, supporting breaking into election machines and threatening election officials and healthcare workers.

Far-right members of Congress such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, and Madison Cawthorn, devoted to pleasing the Trump cult, openly promote civil war.

None other than former President George W. Bush called them to account when he said, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks:

There is little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them.

Prof. Timothy Snyder, the premier authority on authoritarian rule, predicts just such trouble. Interviewed by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, Snyder said: “We’re looking almost certainly at an attempt in 2024 [by pro-Trump Republicans] to take power without winning election.” Voter suppression and empowerment of Republican-controlled state legislatures to control electoral results, said Snyder, “are all working toward the scenario in 2024 where they lose by 10 million votes but they still appoint their guy.”

Rick Hasen, a University of California-Irvine law professor, agrees. He said on MSNBC September 25 that Republican officials in some red states are now planning a “respectable bloodless coup.” He means they will not merely challenge next year’s election results; they will seek to change the outcome on some technicality, making winners of losers like Trump, who of course bears responsibility for this plotting.

I wrote three years ago on Trump’s treasonous behavior with the Russians. I listed several by now well-known instances in which he colluded with Putin’s gang to help him win in 2016 and then pursue pro-Russian policies from the White House. John Brennan, the former CIA director, said back then that Trump “exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’”

Trump’s people, surely with his support, also colluded with emissaries from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates during the 2016 campaign, trading campaign contributions (and possibly real estate opportunities) for backing (which they got) of their foreign policy objectives. All those instances should be added to a bill of particulars that would haul Donald J. Trump before a court on the charge of treason against the United States of America.

The Duty to Confront

The conservative critic Robert Kagan began his much-discussed Washington Post column September 23 with an ominous warning:

The United States is heading into its greatest political and constitutional crisis since the Civil War, with a reasonable chance over the next three to four years of incidents of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.

Some observers think we’re already there. What will it take for people in high places to call things for what they are?

Never before in our history have we had to deal with a president who sought not only to overturn an election but to ensure, by subterfuge, that he will win the next one. He has already been impeached twice, the second time for incitement to insurrection, yet he is undeterred. He cannot tolerate defeat, and he’s willing to take the country down to regain power. The rule of law, he evidently thinks, doesn’t apply to him. The House January 6 select committee’s ongoing investigation will surely find otherwise, but will Trump be indicted?

Robert Reich proposes that Trump should be held accountable under section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which bars any former official from again holding office who “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.”

In other words, treason.

This would-be dictator, already facing numerous charges of criminal behavior, having run a regime in which at least 11 associates were convicted of crimes, and now facing mounting evidence of his attempt to foment a coup, must be stopped and called to account.

Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, the Ohio Republican who voted in favor of Trump’s impeachment and has decided not to run for reelection, called Trump “a cancer for the country.”

That’s it exactly. And like any cancer, we must fight it and seek to remove it.

Mel Gurtov is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.