A lot of people have been casually tossing the word treason around to discredit and perhaps even punish their political opponents. That should give us pause because the punishment for treason is execution. But treason has a very specific definition in the Constitution. It was so defined exactly to PREVENT its use as a political weapon.
In US history out of hundreds of thousands of acts of treason (from the Whiskey Rebellion to the Civil War to WWII) there have only been 14 convictions and no executions for treason. That we go directly to accusing those we disagree with of treason is but another indication of our hyper-polarized discourse. Since the United States is not formally at war with anyone, (except possibly North Korea and some non-state actors such as al-Qaeda and ISIS) no one can commit treason. I would like to define those who knowingly disseminate false information to an ignorant population in order to sow division as enemies. Alas! I wasn’t invited to the Constitutional Convention.
Perhaps we should resort to reason, rather than treason. We would at least do well to educate ourselves on the Constitution and the law.
Carlton F.W. Larson is a professor of law at the University of California at Davis and is writing a book about treason and the American Revolution. President Trump promised to do things differently, but the resignation of a national security adviser under a cloud of suspicion of treason was novel even by Trump standards.