Among the many things President Donald Trump does that irritates me is when he repeatedly misuses a word, like treason, in relation to something he believes that a critic has said or done to him or tries to explain what tariffs are and how they work.
The irritation is amplified and made scary when he does it at one of his rallies, and the crowd of Trump zombies erupts in agreement with him.
Exactly what are the meanings of those two words: treason and tariffs?
Just saying or writing something negative about the president or accusing him of doing something wrong or illegal is not treason; the Founding Fathers made sure of that.
In Federalist Paper 43, James Madison wrote, “As treason may be committed against the United States, the authority of the United States ought to be enabled to punish it;
“But as new tangled and artificial treasons have been the great engines by which violent factions, the natural offspring of free governments, have usually wreaked their alternate malignity on each other, the convention has with great judgment opposed a barrier to this peculiar danger by inserting a constitutional definition of the crime.’’
Article 3, Section 3, of the U.S. Constitution defines treason as this: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.
“No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.
“The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attainted.”
If you are not a lawyer or historian and don’t feel like looking up the definitions of old and unfamiliar words and phrases, attainder means the loss of all civil rights by a person sentenced for a serious crime.
In the Constitution, a Bill of Attainder means a bill that has a negative effect on a single person or group, like a fine or term of imprisonment.
Originally, a Bill of Attainder sentenced an individual to death, though this detail is no longer required to have an enactment be ruled a Bill of Attainder.
The phrase “corruption of blood” was part of ancient English penalty for treason. It was usually part of a Bill of Attainder, which normally sentenced the accused to death.
The corruption of blood would forbid the accused family from inheriting his property. Such bills and punishments were often inflicted upon Tories by colonial governments immediately following independence.
Disloyalty or policies that harm the United States are not treasonous. The Founders took steps to make certain that treason trials could not be used as political weapons against opponents.
Leaking classified material or handling it sloppily is not treason.
Sadly, being overly friendly with Russia or any other country that doesn’t have the best interest of the United States at heart isn’t treason.
Our treason law has a very precise definition. An enemy is a nation or an organization with which the United States is in a declared or open war. Nations with whom we are formally at peace, such as Russia, are not enemies.
North Korea, on the other hand, could be considered an enemy, since the Korean War has yet to have been formally ended, and so can terrorist groups such as ISIS and al Qaeda.
A couple of interesting facts about treason: Non-citizens can be tried for treason, according to a 1872 Supreme Court ruling; while many have committed treason, most offenders have not been tried for such actions.
Remember that the next time Trump or one of his minions on Fox or elsewhere says some critic of the current president has committed a treasonous act.
A tariff is defined by all economists, regardless of if they are followers of Keynes or Hayek, as a tax on imported goods.
And despite what the Trump and zombies say, it is almost always paid directly by the importer and never by the exporting country.
Currently when a product from a country that Trump has imposed tariffs on arrives at a U.S. port, the duty is paid to Customs and Border Protection Service at the border by a broker who represents a U.S. importer or business entity.
Who eventually pays the tariff, according to economists, depends.
Now if that business entity has a benevolent side, it might chose not to pass the increased cost on to its customers.
But those of us who are jaded know better. The primary payer of tariffs will be consumers who purchase the product.
Over time, the businesses selling the products with the tariffs will get competition from companies that sell products made in countries which are not affected by the tariffs, and that will result in some of the tariff being paid by shareholders of the business in the form of lower dividends or the workers in the form of lower wages and compensation.
When Trump and his marionettes say the country exporting the product will pay the tax, they are banking on the fact that demand for the product from the country where the tariff applies won’t disappear immediately, and that some revenue from the tariff will be collected.
Regardless of who pays, it’s not a good economic model for a nation to follow.
Don’t take my word for it; here’s what Adam Smith, the acknowledged father of modern economic, said about tariffs in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.
“When there is no probability that any such repeal [of a tariff in a foreign country] can be procured, it seems a bad method of compensating the injury done to certain classes of our people to do another injury ourselves, not only to those classes, but to almost all the other classes of them.
“When our neighbors prohibit some manufacture of ours, we generally prohibit, not only the same, for that alone would seldom affect them considerably, but some other manufacture of theirs.
“This may no doubt give encouragement to some particular class of workmen among ourselves, and by excluding some of their rivals, may enable them to raise their price in the home-market.
“Those workmen, however, who suffered by our neighbors prohibition will not be benefited by ours.
“On the contrary, they and almost all the other classes of our citizens will thereby be obliged to pay dearer than before for certain goods.
“Every such law, therefore, imposes a real tax upon the whole country, not in favor of that particular class of workmen who were injured by our neighbor’s prohibition, but of some other class.”
Someone please forward a copy of the book to Trump’s economic advisers and tell his supporters the truth when they brag about how Trump is sticking it to China and the other countries taking advantage of us.
A MOTHER OF THE BOTTOM PASSES
My Black Bottom flag is flying at half-staff this week because of the passing of my cousin, Pearline Travis, one of the mothers in the Bottom.
What can I say about Pearline here that she hadn’t said herself? She was something else, a true character in this game of life.
When I was younger, I didn’t like or appreciate Pearline much: She watched me too closely whenever I was running the streets of the Bottom or hanging out at one of establishments on Washington Street on the verge of possibly doing something I probably shouldn’t.
If she felt like I had or was about to cross that line, she’d let me know in that booming voice she had that I knew better and if I didn’t get my butt toward home on Curtis Street, she’d take me.
I never doubted that she would.
Years later, whenever I’d see her at LL’s and she called my name, just for a moment, my shoulders would tighten, waiting for her to tell me to get my butt towards Curtis Street.
The only time she actually got onto me was few years ago for not telling my son Nate that she was our cousin.
As I write this short tribute, I can hear her saying to me, “Tony what’s wrong with you not telling this child I’m his cousin and who his people are; you know better than that.”
I shrugged my shoulders, looked at Nate and said, “That’s your cousin there.”
I followed that up by telling her she couldn’t send me to Curtis Street any more. She laughed and smiled over the cards she held in her hands.
Hi, Momma Lois.
TONY KENDALL of Hazel is a writer, teacher, actor, playwright and sports fanatic. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.