There always were, of course, an infinity of reasons why we didn’t want our disreputable Uncle Fred or the obnoxious drunk at the end of the bar or our cab driver to become president of the United States. You know, the guys who had all the answers to all the problems and the problems were so easy to solve. Their catechism of solutions usually began with “all you gotta do” and ended with something absurd, like rounding a certain group of people up, or passing a law so hideous and draconian as to make the Nazi-era Nuremberg Laws look tame, or executing everyone who lives within a square mile of a certain troubled neighborhood.
We didn’t want such people to become president of the United States because we knew they were full of crap and we knew that people like them were stupid and would become dangerous given anything like power and, until 2016, we never really thought it would happen anyway. Then it happened. Only the very empty-headed were and remain surprised at how awful it got. The only ones who were glad that it happened were the ones who were exactly like our disreputable Uncle Fred. What surprised many of us was just how many of them there were.
So when Donald Trump called for the execution of the person who leaked that he cowered in the White House bunker during the protests in May of 2020, we yet again recognized the unmistakable hand of Uncle Fred. For many, responding to crises and emergencies and embarrassments with the primitive limbic system of the brain is more personally satisfying than thinking things through with the prefrontal cortex. Our impulse to want fast and brutal resolutions to problems is a primitive one reaching back to the infancy of our race, and that is why so many of the Uncle Freds among us are Republicans.
But make no mistake, when Trump called for the execution of the leaker he was not being merely temporarily impulsive. He really meant it. We know this because we know how bottomless his vindictiveness is, and because he raged about it for days. It was only because the power of the president is limited that he wasn’t able to carry it out. There are many evil things Trump would have done if he could have. But thanks to checks and balances and Hamiltonian forethought, the Constitution and American Law make it difficult for a US president to enact the policies and execute the edicts of a complete neurotic scumbag.
In “Frankly, We Did Win This Election: The Inside Story of How Trump Lost,” Michael Bender writes that when it leaked that Trump, Melania Trump and their son Barron were taken to the bunker for safety, “It was the most upset some aides had ever seen the president.” Trump went on a rampage over the incident that lasted for several days. He constantly checked with then Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to find out if they found the leaker. “Whoever did that, they should be charged with treason!’ Trump screamed. “They should be executed!”
Of course, leaking something false about the president of the United States is not treason. Leaking something true and embarrassing about the president of the United States is similarly not treason. The accusation of treason is a tough burden to meet, and it usually involves the crime of betraying one’s country, especially by attempting to overthrow the government.
Inciting a riot that ends in a murderous attack by an out-of-control mob on the Nation’s Capitol Building is more like it, for example. Now that’s treason, and while I’m personally opposed to the death penalty, it wouldn’t keep me up nights if, in this instance, one exception were made by a judge and jury. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.