Is Donald Trump a traitor? His path to the White House suggests a pattern of profound disloyalty

There's a word for someone who colludes with a foreign power to subvert democracy and overthrow political norms

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published December 22, 2016 10:00AM (EST)

 (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
(Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Republican nominee Donald Trump urged a foreign power, Russia, to interfere in the American election in order to undermine his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. Russia complied. The American intelligence community, including the CIA and FBI, has reached a “strong consensus" that the Russians interfered with the presidential election in order to help Donald Trump win.

It has also been reported that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed this espionage operation. So serious was Russian interference in the American presidential election that the Obama administration warned Putin that it was tantamount to “armed conflict.”

Republican leaders in Congress were briefed on Russia’s interference in the presidential election and how it was targeted at elevating Trump and hurting Clinton. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other congressional Republicans chose to block any public discussion of these findings. In what could be construed as a quid pro quo, McConnell’s wife, Elaine Chao, has been selected by President-elect Trump for a Cabinet position in his administration.

Donald Trump’s flirtations with Russia and Vladimir Putin are part of a broader pattern of reckless and irresponsible behavior. Trump has numerous conflicts of financial interest that would appear to violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution. His sons, Eric and Donald Jr., were involved in a scheme (since withdrawn) that looked a lot like an attempt to sell access to his administration through million-dollar “charity” donations.

Trump has threatened to violate the First Amendment by suppressing freedom of the press, encouraged violence against Clinton and those he deemed his enemies, suggested he would not respect the outcome of the election if he lost and now promoted people widely regarded as white supremacists or white nationalists to senior positions in his administration. Donald Trump has also selected key advisers and cabinet level officials who have close personal and financial relationships with Russian leaders in banking, finance and government.

The sum total of these facts leads to a very troubling conclusion.

President-elect Donald Trump is a traitor. As suggested by John Shattuck, a Harvard university professor, in the Boston Globe, Trump’s actions may approach the legal definition of treason as defined by U.S. federal law.

Members of the Republican Party who knew about Russia’s efforts to interfere with the presidential election and chose to suppress or block such information, for fear of hurting their candidate’s chances, are also traitors.

In light of Russia’s interference with the presidential election, Republicans and others who voted for and support Donald Trump are also traitors, at least to the degree that they do not now work against and denounce him.

Reconciling Trump’s traitorous behavior with how Republicans and conservatives view themselves as the party of “patriotism” and “national security” is a puzzle of sorts. How do they resolve this state of cognitive dissonance?

Writing about Oscar Wilde, David Friedman observed that a celebrity is someone who is famous for being famous. This logic applies to the Republican Party and how it has presented itself in regard to national security. For example, this tautology ignores the fact that the Cold War was not won by one president — certainly not by Ronald Reagan, a figure who has been undeservedly elevated to sainthood in American political culture — but because of a continuity in foreign policy across both Democratic and Republican administrations.

The Republicans' claim that theirs is the party of national security and that they are better than Democrats at “keeping America safe” is gutted by the legacy of 9/11 and George W. Bush’s imperial misadventures in the Middle East, which taken together constitute one of the greatest foreign policy failures in the history of the country.

Trump voters and other American conservatives have been subjected to a several decades-long disinformation and propaganda campaign, led by Fox News and the broader right-wing news-entertainment media. This has created an alternate reality that exists separate and apart from the empirical, fact-based world. As shown by recent public opinion surveys, Donald Trump supporters hold many false and bizarre beliefs. As Salon’s Bob Cesca summarized in a recent essay, here’s what Trump voters said they think about a series of issues in a December poll:

  • 40 percent of Trump voters insist that he won the national popular vote.
  • 60 percent of Trump voters think that Hillary Clinton received millions of illegal votes.
  • 73 percent of Trump voters believe that George Soros is paying anti-Trump protesters.
  • 29 percent of Trump voters don’t think California votes should be allowed to count in the national popular vote.
  • 67 percent of Trump voters think the unemployment rate went up under President Barack Obama. Only 20 percent accurately believe it went down.
  • 39 percent of Trump voters think the stock market went down under Obama. And 19 percent are unsure.
  • 14 percent of Trump voters think Hillary Clinton is connected to a child sex ring run out of a Washington pizzeria. Another 32 percent aren’t sure one way or another. Only 54 percent are certain that Pizzagate is a myth.

Conservatism is a type of political religion and cult; Trump is now the leader of that cult.

In many regards American voters are not very sophisticated. They also do not have a schema for consistently and logically understanding and processing complex political events and issues. Because of the influence of corporate money and advertising (Trump received the equivalent of $5 billion in free advertising during the presidential campaign, according to news reports), the Fourth Estate has largely failed to fulfill its watchdog function and to educate the American people so that they can make informed and intelligent decisions about their leaders.

A controversial new book by political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels suggested that voters are nondeliberative, casting their ballots largely based on prior assumptions and party loyalty and twisting the facts to fit their beliefs.

Republican-controlled states in the South and the Midwest also host a disproportionate number of military bases. Military officers also tend to identify as Republicans and to be more conservative. These two factors combine to give immediate credibility — however incorrect and superficial it may be — to the claim that Republicans are “stronger” on national defense.

Extreme political polarization, increasing authoritarianism and what is known as “negative partisanship” have also encouraged Republican voters to dramatically shift their attitudes toward Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. Writing for the National Review, David French explained:

After weeks of WikiLeaks’ releases and months of Trump apologetics for Russia’s dictator, the Republicans nonetheless view Putin more favorably than their own president. Between 2014 and today, Putin’s approval ratings with Republicans have almost quadrupled, from 10 percent to 37 percent. His net negative rating is a mere ten points. By contrast, the GOP net negative rating for Barack Obama is a whopping 64 points. Across the Web, “conservatives” fill Twitter timelines and comment boards with pro-Putin comments. Some of this is Astroturfed straight from Russia. Much of it is not. “At least WikiLeaks is doing what the mainstream media won’t” (as if it’s the media’s job to hack computers). “Putin disrespects Obama, not the United States.” “Well, at least Putin hates Islamic terrorists” (well, other than his close Iranian allies, the world’s leading state supporter of Islamic terrorism). We are seeing the terrible result of what the Pew Foundation has documented as negative partisanship. Americans dislike the opposing political party more than they like their own tribe. They’re willing to believe the worst possible things about their political opponents.

These are all important explanations for how Republicans and conservatives can rationalize their support of Trump and his traitorous behavior with Russia. But they explicitly exclude another powerful force: the ways that nationalism, sexism and racism influence American politics more generally and conservatives specifically.

Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine if Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or any other Democrat had encouraged Russia to interfere with the election to undermine the process in order to favor their candidacy.

Given how the Republican Party and its news entertainment media flew into a collective conspiratorial frenzy over Hillary Clinton’s “classified emails” and a mysterious computer server, the outcome would have been something close to a literal witch hunt — perhaps an investigation or cries that a Russian-led coup or revolution had taken place. This difference in outcomes is more than a function of mere partisanship but rather a signal to deep divergences in political values and beliefs about belonging, community and citizenship in American society.

Obama or any other person of color would likely have been immediately and irrevocably delegitimized by the charges facing Trump. From before the founding of the republic to the present, and despite their military and other public service, black and brown people in America have found their loyalty is perpetually suspect.

Another factor here is that the American nation-state is gendered. Conservatives and right-wingers are engaged in a masculine, nationalist political project. Hillary Clinton was viewed as “weak” and “too emotional” because she is a woman. Clinton’s hypothetical alliance with Putin would have been seen as proof of those “deficits,” and such a scandal would be used to sexualize and demean her.

Since at least the Cold War, Republicans and their media have savaged Democrats, liberals and progressives as “weak.” The are not “real Americans”; they are “cowards” or “sissies,” “commies” or “traitors.” If Russia and Putin had interfered to aid a Democratic candidate, this would be presented by Republicans as final proof that Democrats are fundamentally disloyal to America.

But because Donald Trump is a white male conservative, his loyalty and patriotism are viewed by many Americans as a given. This is a manifestation of white male privilege in action and an example of how racism can damage the safety and security of the United States.

During the age of Obama, the Republican Party completed its devolution into a radical and revanchist organization that has aimed to overthrow the standing norms and consensus politics that have governed the United States since at least World War II. Trump and the Republicans are now following through on this in ways heretofore unimaginable.

They have chosen partisanship over patriotism in their support of the authoritarian Trump and his apparent foreign sponsor Vladimir Putin. The Russians wanted to undermine and damage one of America’s most sacred democratic institutions. Donald Trump and his party aided and abetted them.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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