Crossing the T in Treason

Let me preface this by saying, unequivocally, that Donald Trump should be impeached. Never mind impeached: publicly spanked, or shot into the sun would be even better. We should all wish for Congress to act swiftly to make this happen, without concern for the temperate solemnity which the Democrats so embarrassingly crave.

But there is something infuriating about the particular reason for only now putting the machinery of impeachment into motion, and that has to do with the way that the current revelations reinforce the conceptual and moral importance of the national border as a fundamental division of “us” against “them” in a manner that would be familiar to—in a stroke of great irony—Trump himself.

What I mean by that is this: Trump could have been caught on tape speaking to any American about undermining his political opponents, and this would hardly have bothered anybody at all. To the contrary, such scheming is the expected behavior of any politician engaged in an electoral campaign. For that matter, Trump could have—and in fact has—been caught on tape talking with other Americans about how he plans to ruin the country, outlining his intentions to drive its people into a stupor of idiotic obeisance, to waste its resources on projects of no value, to herd children into concentration camps. And why limit it to getting “caught on tape”? Trump has said these things out loud, in speeches and at rallies and in hundreds of tweets and slogans and campaign emails.

But all of a sudden, as soon as the president’s abhorrent scheming crosses outside of our dear national borders, we have something newly ghastly, something horrifying enough to awake the sleeping giant of democratic checks and balances. The president, we now understand, is guilty of conspiring with them (those whose allegiance lies outside our borders), against us (the mythical community of those for whom the accident of geography has placed under the Stars and Stripes).

Why should it matter if Trump is trying to bring down Joe Biden with the help of Ukrainians (or Russians, or any one else) as opposed to doing so with the help of Sheldon Adelson, Peter Thiel, and Stephen Miller? The only characteristic, of course, that distinguishes Volodymyr Zelensky from these others is that he is not one of us, and he is not one of us because he is elsewhere, across that magical line drawn on the map which distinguishes high treason from mere domestic malfeasance. And that is the exact same magical line which Trump himself has used to powerful and catastrophic effect, separating the imagined Volk of true Americans from the undeserving migrants that lie on the other side of the Rio Grande, the Caribbean Sea, the Horn of Africa, or wherever else.

This is not intended whatsoever as an apology for what Trump is accused of doing in Ukraine—actions which are, without question, impeachable. But you know what else were impeachable offenses? Children being separated from their parents, migrants held in cages, and families drowning in rivers. Using the bully pulpit to protect fascism on the march in Virginia, Texas, and indeed in almost every corner of our life. Allowing the world to burn ever hotter and condemning countless future generations to live under the catastrophe of a few wasted years of climate inaction. So on and on and on—there is no point in making a list like this, because it is nothing more than a transcript of every day of the past three years.

Is it only by whipping up this antique fury about the violation of the Nation that we might finally have a chance of undoing all these violations against real people in the present and future, against the habitable landscape, against the fabric of our communities and indeed the very conditions which make it possible to live peaceably with one another? These latter violations represent far graver abuses that will historically account to Trump’s name than even the most mischievous conversations on a phone line to Eastern Europe.