The world’s great dictatorships share a common trait: the leadership’s demand for unwavering loyalty from the governed. Even among supposed democracies such as Turkey and Egypt, anyone who dares to “insult” the nation by questioning the ruler’s decisions can land in prison — or worse.
That helps explain why North Koreans will fall all over themselves in displays of hysterical adoration of dictator Kim Jong Un. One widely distributed 2013 video shows soldiers running along a beach in full uniform, midwinter, to greet Kim on a boat. They’re so overcome with adoration they wade waist-deep into cold Pacific waters just to bathe in his aura.
Apparently, that’s what President Donald Trump wants from Congress. After Democrats sat in stubborn silence during his Jan. 30 State of the Union address, Trump accused them of treason.
Trump told an audience in Blue Ash, Ohio, on Feb. 5 that congressional Republicans were “going totally crazy, wild” over his speech, and that their repeated interruptions with applause meant that “they want to do something great for our country.”
Democrats’ failure to stand and cheer meant they were “un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, yeah, I guess, why not? Can we call that treason? Why not?” Trump said. “I mean, they certainly didn’t seem to love our country very much.”
Trump conflates patriotism with unquestioning support for whatever words come out of his mouth. Refusing to applaud him or expressing intense dislike of Trump — a feeling shared by many Republicans as well as Democrats — is, in the president’s view, unpatriotic and treasonous.
Once again, Trump’s reckless disregard for word choices moves the nation closer toward the slippery slope of tyrannical oppression. Words matter in a democracy.
Many did not support Democrat leaders’ behavior during the State of the Union. In their ham-handed attempt to show disdain for Trump, they disrespected the office of the presidency. In doing so, they proved themselves no better than Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C., who shouted, “You lie!” during a speech by President Barack Obama to a joint session of Congress in 2009.
But no American, especially the president, should ever misconstrue disrespect for the individual occupying the Oval Office as signifying treason. Trump is an egotistical and very flawed man, not the symbol of American patriotism. He might try to wrap himself in the flag, but he is not equal to the flag. Americans do not pledge allegiance to Donald Trump.
A president who casually blurts out words like “fake news,” “treasonous” and “un-American” demonstrates how little he understands of our First Amendment rights. Trump no doubt would prefer that all citizens wade waist-deep into cold water to demonstrate their blind adoration of him. But true Americans know better. The minute we cede our right to question our elected leaders, we give up our democracy.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch