If you want, you can go ahead and look for ways to make life work in a Trump presidency. I’m going to spend my own time watching for traitors.
I’m not talking about people with whom I strongly disagree. I’m not even talking about people whose views I find repugnant. I’m talking about traitors.
I am talking about enemies within, the kind of people who would tear down and destroy this great nation of ours, who would seize the world’s oldest most successful experiment in constitutional democracy and grind it into a moral political rubble.
Can it be treason if a majority vote for it? Let’s put that one aside for now. I think we should spare ourselves the Weimar metaphor whenever possible, if for no other reason than to avoid putting unnecessary wear and tear on it. And Americans did not vote for treason. They voted for Trump.
Trump is the guy with whom I strongly disagree. He is the person whose views I find repugnant. But he’s no traitor. Not yet. Maybe never.
I’m not talking about anything metaphorical. I’m talking about traitors, and I’m even using a fairly narrow meaning of that word, not the one that refers to personal fidelity but the meaning that refers to national allegiance.
The Oxford dictionary defines the latter as, “One who is false to his allegiance to his sovereign or to the government of his country.” Webster’s calls him, “a person who betrays his country.”
The law is more precise, as the law ought to be. American law says a traitor is, “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States.”
A person also is guilty of a crime if he, “knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government.”
I decided to go on some kind of personal traitor-watch after a series of little bumps, beginning toward the end of Thanksgiving Day. We were watching the end of the Cowboys game with family — one of those warm delicious moments when one can almost taste the richness and privilege of being an American.
Conversation drifted toward TV shows, and I mentioned I had binge-watched the Amazon streaming series, The Man in the High Castle, based on a Phillip Dick novel. The story takes place in the United States in the 1960s but after the German and Japanese regimes have conquered the U.S. at the end of World War II.
The fine points of the plot left me adrift a few times, I confess, but the tone and texture of the telling were deeply haunting. You’re looking at the U.S. in this story, all right. It’s fully recognizable. But life in this un-free and profoundly racist version of our country is dark, poor, pinched, worn-out and fearful, as one might imagine life in Cuba or a 1960s Iron-curtain country.
The power of the story is the question that lurks unspoken just behind its story-telling scrim: Why not? Why do we think we are guaranteed freedom, tolerance, creativity, opportunity or any of this bounty? Who in the heavens decreed that people in North America had some intrinsic inherited right to escape the penury and terror common to lives led by so many millions of human beings scattered over so much of the rest of the planet?
At the tail-end of our Thanksgiving Day, when I was filching a slice of pumpkin pie alone in the darkened kitchen, another bump invaded my thoughts — an incident from two days prior. We had been having some emergency work done on the house, hurrying to get it ready for Thanksgiving guests. The last workman was leaving. I accompanied him to the front porch, grateful that the work was done.
But he didn’t go to his truck. He stopped on the porch and asked me what I thought of Trump. I deflected. I didn’t want to talk politics. I needed to get back inside and keep helping my wife get the house ready, but he was not to be deterred.
Here is the best reconstruction I can render of the rather long speech he delivered to me out there in the cool night air on my own front porch.
He said we have to, “hang on to Houston, because Houston is our only port.” He explained that the ports in New York and New Jersey, Los Angeles and California are all “controlled by the liberals.” We will need to have our own port, he said, so that our nation “can have imports and exports.”
Other remarks that I just don’t feel like reproducing here (don’t have the stomach at the moment) made it plain that the new nation my guest intends to help build will be for white people only and then only the right kind of those, probably not including yours truly.
Look, I’m not trying to make too big a deal out of that conversation alone. He’s one guy who listens to some kind of whacko radio show, and he has a bunch of off-the-wall political fantasies about creating a separate white nation. But what struck me more than the content of his remarks was his eagerness to force them on me before he left my house.
A month ago, this guy, who works for a company, was not going to button-hole his company’s customer on the customer’s front porch and preach white nationalism to him. Much more impressive than what he said to me was the aggressive tone. He felt enabled and empowered to speak treason to me in my own home where he had come to do a job.
And you are perfectly welcome to dismiss that as a silly one-off, the kind of eccentric encounter that could always have happened, with or without Trump. But I’m not taking it that way. I’m putting it on account.
As I finished my pie, I remembered something from the beginning of the same day, another bump, when my wife and I were having our coffee and reading the papers. She showed me a post from the Facebook page of a friend and former colleague of hers, a journalist. Her friend wrote at the top: “A friend reports this flier was just circulated in their McKinney neighborhood.”
Below was a photo of a crumpled white page of text, all in bold-face capital letters, saying the following:
“Our new President Donald J. Trump is God’s gift to white nation. We want to get our country back on the right track. We need to get rid of Muslims, Indians, Blacks and Jews.
“We can start with the great state of Texas, and President Trump will take care of the country. These foreigners are taking our high-paying jobs and leaving us stranded. So please do not sell or rent your homes to them. We are everywhere and watching every move. We have our members in the law enforcement and government, so don’t bother going to them.
“If you are of those above mentioned race, then this is a warning. Leave Texas or better yet go back to where you came from. If you don’t heed this warning, then we are not responsible for the torture starting now.
“God bless America and God bless Donald J. Trump!!!”
Still not with me on my treason watch? Too flaky? Hey, I understand. I said at the top you didn’t have to come along. But my last bump came to me Friday morning when I read an excellent in-depth piece — not flaky at all! — by David McSwane, a reporter in The Dallas Morning News Austin bureau, about a flurry of proposed state legislation that would revive the Jim Crow era concepts of “nullification” and “interposition.”
Nullification and interposition are attempts to create exceptions where states can defy the federal government. These are ideas that ignore and would defy the outcome of the Civil War. They are close cousins of that favorite canard of ultra-right-wing Texans going back to the militia groups of the 1990s, espousing the secession of Texas from the United States.
Since the Civil War, the supremacy of federal law over state law has been settled law. Also settled forever was the issue of secession. Under the structure that defines our nation and makes America what it is, states may not defy or secede from the nation.
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More than some abstract legal principle, the supremacy of the union has been the fountain from which our fundamental liberty, opportunity and prosperity have issued — the things that make this nation what it is today, not what it would have been had the other side won World War II.
That was the final bump. I’m not only talking about some creep sneaking door-to-door under cover of darkness to hand out sick racist fliers. I don’t mean just the pushy workman threatening me with white nationalism on my own porch. Their sense of empowerment is being ratified and encouraged by elected officials. That's a step further.
Let’s make sure we know what the issue is here. It is really treason. It’s the tearing apart and devouring of this same big too-comfortable country that we all just celebrated on Thanksgiving Day. Benedict Arnold was a traitor because he conspired to deliver West Point to the British. The members of the Texas Legislature working to revive nullification are his legal and moral heirs.
So you watch Trump. I hope you do. He bears watching. It's a worthwhile thing, hoping for the best, trying to make things work. Keep it up. Meanwhile, just as the author of that flier said he would be watching me, I will be watching for him. I will have a little list.