On Thursday, Fox Business Network host Lou Dobbs castigated Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) for his recent op-ed in which he severely criticizes President Trump.
“And so, he just attacked the president – attacked his character, his personality, did everything but talk about policy,” Dobbs said. “Perhaps he should try winning for a change, and work to support the president, period.”
After introducing his two segment guests, Dobbs went on to call Romney a “mealy-mouthed weasel,” and a “snake.” He went on to use even more harsh language, calling Romney a “traitor,” as well as “treasonous.”
We have Romney, who is basically saying to all of the great Americans in Utah, “Go to hell, please! You were a bunch of suckers! I accepted the Trump endorsement. And now I’m telling Trump what I really think of him.” What an ignorant … his character?! He’s talking about character? He’s a traitor. He is treasonous, and betrayed the people of Utah!
While the definition of “treason” and “treasonous” have certainly expanded over the years – synonyms being treachery, disloyalty, and betrayal – in the context of the Constitution, “treason” has an incredibly narrow definition.
According to Article III, Section 3 of the United States Constitution:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
There is debate as to what “aid and comfort” means. In the 1945 Supreme Court case, Cramer v United States, Justice Jackson wrote the following in the majority opinion:
“Aid and comfort” was defined by Lord Reading in the Casement trial comprehensively, as it should be, and yet probably with as much precision as the nature of the matter will permit: “an act which strengthens or tends to strengthen the enemies of the King in the conduct of a war against the King, that is in law the giving of aid and comfort” and “an act which weakens or tends to weaken the power of the King and of the country to resist or to attack the enemies of the King and the country is giving of aid and comfort.”
Lord Reading explained it, as we think one must, in terms of an “act.” It is not easy, if indeed possible, to think of a way in which “aid and comfort” and be “given” to an enemy except by some kind of action. Its very nature partakes of a deed or physical activity as opposed to a mental operation.
Thus the crime of treason consists of two elements: adherence to the enemy; and rendering him aid and comfort. A citizen intellectually or emotionally may favor the enemy and harbor sympathies or convictions disloyal to this country’s policy or interest, but so long as he commits no act of aid and comfort to the enemy, there is no treason.
On the other hand, a citizen may take actions, which do aid and comfort the enemy—making a speech critical of the government or opposing its measures, profiteering, striking in defense plants or essential work, and the hundred other things which impair our cohesion and diminish our strength but if there is no adherence to the enemy in this, if there is no intent to betray, there is no treason.
It’s widely understood that the term “treasonous” has variant definitions, and while it may seem silly to examine a cable news host’s language this closely, it can be instructive.
Treason is a serious crime, and the increasing casual usage of the word to describe individuals who criticize a political figure seems unwise as it dilutes the necessary severity of the word and the actual criminal offense as described in the United States Constitution.