Opposition to the president is not treason

Opposition to the president is not treason
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POTUS ≠ US. It is a simple formula. If President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump rallies in Nevada amid Supreme Court flurry: 'We're gonna get Brett' Trump: 'Good news' that Obama is campaigning again Trump boosts Heller, hammers 'Wacky Jacky' opponent in Nevada MORE and his core supporters would internalize it, they’d be well served.

The presidency of the United States is the most significant, most powerful single office in our constitutional government. But, all the same, the president is a public servant. He is not the sovereign; we are. He represents the nation; he does not embody it.

Consequently, a betrayal of the president’s trust is not a betrayal of the country. It is dangerous to confound these two things.

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The president is extremely agitated about an anonymous New York Times op-ed, penned by what the Gray Lady describes as “a senior official in the Trump administration.” I don’t blame him. The piece, in which the author brags about being part of a faction resisting the president from within, is dishonorable.

For an executive officer with integrity, there is a simple choice. If you object to the policies of an administration, or if you find the character of the president so objectionable that you have difficulty carrying out his directives, you can either (a) remain in the administration, do your best to veer the president toward policies you believe are in the nation’s interest, and then faithfully execute his lawful directives regardless of whether you agree with them; or (b) resign your position and engage in the public debate — in your own name, not in craven anonymity.

The official who authored the op-ed took the coward’s way out. He or she did not just betray the president. To the extent this self-serving preen has prompted a predictable presidential tirade and internal investigation, the author also has betrayed the selfless, patriotic administration officials who, every day, work diligently to govern and to pursue America’s best interests.

Moreover, the author has confirmed the indictment long lodged by Trump supporters: There is an entrenched “deep state” working against the president. Euphemizing it as the “steady state,” as Anonymous does, fails to camouflage the nature of the “Resistance.” And posturing about how the “steady state” beats back the president’s worst impulses does not conceal its imperious claim to be a permanent, unaccountable regime.

If the administration identifies the writer, he or she should be fired forthwith (whereupon the writer’s inevitable media beatification can commence). And if, as Anonymous claims, there are administration operatives who see themselves as a parallel government working to thwart the elected one — as opposed to seasoned subject-matter experts who strive to ensure that the president makes informed decisions (the kind of people every administration needs) — they should get the boot, too.

All that said, though, betrayal of the president is not betrayal of the nation.

No sooner was the op-ed published than President Trump tweeted, “TREASON?” He proceeded to rant that, “for National Security purposes,” the Times was obliged to “turn [the author] over to the government at once!” Continuing to beat the “national security” drum, the president contends that the Justice Department should use its awesome investigative powers to ferret out the identity of the author.

Some of the president’s most rabid supporters have picked up this batty baton and run with it. They claim that the op-ed author has committed treason. Anonymous and his or her deep-state cronies, they say, are guilty of sedition and must be prosecuted — what is Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsHillicon Valley: Trump cyber strategy lets US go on offense | AT&T urges court to let Time Warner merger stand | Conservatives want wife of DOJ official to testify | Facebook, nonprofits team up to fight fake news | DC camera hacker pleads guilty Vote Democrat in midterms to rein in Trump, preserve justice Sessions limits ability of judges to dismiss deportation cases MORE waiting for?

This is crazy talk. There was no classified information compromised by the op-ed. It is an expression of political dissent. There is nothing criminal about it and it is not the business of the Justice Department.

As noted on Twitter this weekend, I happen to be one of a few people in our country who has prosecuted a seditious conspiracy case (specifically, against the jihadist cabal that, in 1993, bombed the World Trade Center and unsuccessfully plotted simultaneous attacks on New York City landmarks — see my memoir, “Willful Blindness”). The crime, based on a Civil War-era statute now codified at Section 2384 of the federal penal code, rarely has been invoked in our history because it is so heinous. It involves conspiring to levy war against the United States, or to attempt the forcible overthrow of the government. The sine qua non of the offense is the intent to take up arms against our country.

Seditious conspiracy is derived from treason, the only federal crime to be defined by the Constitution. It is no surprise, then, that treason (codified at Section 2381) involves the concept of aligning with enemies at war with our nation. Note, that means enemies of the United States, not of Donald Trump, poised to wage a real war, not a metaphorical war, much less a mere political attack.

Understand: Traitors and seditionists have sought to demolish our democratic republic by mass-murder attacks and all-out war. Such malevolent actors are the enemies of all Americans. To the contrary, political adversaries of the elected government are our fellow citizens engaged in dissent, without which a functioning free society would be an illusion.

It is ludicrous to trivialize treason and sedition as if they were mere political dissent. I opined in my tweet that the past week’s lunatic chatter has “an icky cult vibe.” It does. If you can’t distinguish opposition to the president from opposition to the country, you’re a cultist.

To be clear, I am supportive of the president when he promotes conservative policies (as he often does). I am also convinced that the special-counsel investigation to which Mr. Trump has been subjected is ill-founded. But those who disagree with me, those who vigorously oppose President Trump and his agenda — whether they are administration officials, media pundits, or partisan Democrats on the floor of Congress — are engaged in a proud American tradition safeguarded by the First Amendment.

Many people on both sides of the political divide complain that our discourse is broken. It won’t be repaired until we stop portraying our political opponents as treasonous enemies; and until each side unambiguously condemns activists of any stripe who cross the line from legitimate dissent into violence and the techniques of disruption that make civil discourse impossible.

Time to get a grip.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor.