One of the more disturbing trends on the American Center-Left (which sees itself, entirely without justification, as “the Left”) is the increasing popularity of the right-wingers as “seditionists” or “traitors” meme. The most notable recent example, in the wake of the racially-motivated massacre in Charleston, is the identification of the Confederate battle flag with “treason.” The Confederate flag is evil, and the people who wave it are wrong, for a whole lot of reasons; but insufficient respect for authority isn’t one of them. And I’m writing this — on July 4, a day that commemorates a famous act of treason — the day after news of Nixon’s sabotage of LBJ’s peace talks with Vietnam widely appeared under headlines including the word “treason.”
The fad started early in Obama’s first administration, when prominent Tea Party Republicans expressed a desire for his agenda to fail, and a minority of GOP hardliners managed to shut down the government as a political statement. Democrats resurrected the meme when Congressman Tom Cotton wrote a letter to the Iranian leadership, co-signed by several dozen of his colleagues, with the intention of sabotaging peace talks.
I fully understand the liberals’ motivation here. For decades, the theme of Democrats as appeasers, traitors, weak on national security, unpatriotic, etc., has been a staple in Republican red meat rhetoric. And it’s understandable that they enjoy being able to turn the GOP’s own rhetoric around on it for a change. But the Legionnaires, Birchers and other right-wingers who harped about “disloyalty” and “unAmericanism” throughout the twentieth century were just plain stupid. And liberals who adopt that rhetoric, regardless of the reason, are equally stupid.
Let’s get something straight: The American state is and always has been, regardless of the political party controlling it, the executive committee of the propertied classes who use the state to extract rents from the working and producing population. Treason against the American state, and the economic ruling classes whose interests it serves, is a good thing. The Wobblies, socialists and anarchists who inspired bleating about “disloyalty” and “treason” from right-wing troglodytes during America’s various red scares were the good guys.
Tom Cotton’s letter to Iran wasn’t wicked because he committed “treason” against the national security policy of the Chief Executive. It was wicked, like Nixon’s secret campaign diplomacy, because it attempted to sabotage an attempt to stop war. Cotton and his co-signers were acting as running dogs for the Israeli Apartheid state and its goal of initiating a murderous, offensive war against Iran. “Treason” that attempts to stop US wars of aggression, on the other hand, is a good thing when it occurs.
As for the Confederate flag, there’s a strong tendency to view the federal government and the early growth of its powers as a “progressive” force. This is totally anachronistic. Until 1860 the federal government was firmly under the control of pro-slavery forces. The Compromise of 1850, the Dred Scott decision, a draconian Fugitive Slave Law, prohibitions against abolitionist literature in the US mails, and a ban on discussing slavery on the floor of Congress — all reflected unchallenged control of the federal government by a strongly pro-slavery Democratic Party. It would have remained this way indefinitely, had the pro-slavery forces not engaged in a series of unbelievably self-destructive acts that amounted to suicide. The Democrats, by splitting between moderately pro-slavery and fanatically pro-slavery wings, threw the election to Lincoln. Even then, had the southern states not seceded, Lincoln would have been a one-term lame duck paralyzed by a Democratic Congress. It was only by a fluke that the American federal government ever stopped being pro-slavery.
Indeed “traitors” like John Brown and Harriet Tubman, and New England juries who nullified the Fugitive Slave Law, found themselves at war with the federal government. We need more traitors like them, and like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden.
The problem with the Confederates wasn’t too little loyalty to the Union. It was too much loyalty — to the Confederate states and the slave power they represented. Here’s to treason against all states, and against the exploiters of human labor who control them.