Commentary: Donald Trump, Barack Obama and ‘treason’

By John Krull 


This nonsense about questioning others’ love of country has gone too far.

John Krull, publisher,

A few days ago, President Donald Trump said at a rally that Democrats in Congress who didn’t applaud during his State of the Union Address were “un-American” and “treasonous.”

Afterward, Trump’s poor, beleaguered press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders – one imagines her starting each day wondering, exhausted, what unnecessary Trump mess she’ll have to clean up for the boss before close of business – tried to dismiss the comments as an attempt at humor. Democrats, she suggested, just can’t take a joke.

Critics were quick to point out that Trump sat stone-faced, seething and not applauding at the 2011 Gridiron Dinner when President Barack Obama told jokes about The Donald’s birther obsession. Does that mean it’s all right for Democrats to insinuate that President Trump and, by extension, his followers don’t love their country?


Before I continue, I need to make some things clear.

Democrats did not behave well at the State of the Union. They should have stood when the president entered the chamber. They should have shaken his hand to greet him and extended other appropriate courtesies.

It was wrong of them not to. They can point to examples of bad faith and boorishness on the other side of the aisle all they want, but that doesn’t relieve them of the responsibility for their own conduct.

I felt the same way when U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson, R-South Carolina, shouted, “You lie!” during an Obama State of the Union – and no Republicans chastised him for the outburst.

Or, for that matter, about Donald Trump’s long campaign to delegitimize Barack Obama’s presidency and citizenship long after the facts had shredded Trump’s claims.

Republicans can rail until they’re exhausted about Obamacare and other things they despise, but those rationalizations don’t justify their conduct.

I’m old school about some things.

Among them is the conviction that, in a self-governing democratic republic, one should show respect for an office even if one disagrees with the person occupying that office.

To do otherwise is bad form.

Really bad form.

But bad manners aren’t treason. They aren’t even a crime.

They’re just bad manners.

This also needs to be said.

People have a right to disagree. They have a right to speak up when they hear something with which they disagree. They also have a right to stay silent when speaking up might signify concurrence with something they don’t believe.

This is not that different from the idiotic argument about the National Football League and the National Anthem.

I stand when I hear the National Anthem. I don’t do it because I agree with everything this nation has done, is doing or will do. We are a country of human beings, imperfect creatures who will do both good and bad things, but who are supposed to be united in a quest to unshackle the human spirit.

By standing, I rededicate myself to that quest.

But I respect others who make a different choice. They may have had an experience at odds with mine or they may choose another route to express their devotion to their beliefs.

And their country.

That’s their right, too.

What too many people – including the president and other public office holders in both parties – don’t seem to realize is that we can’t cede to someone the power to tell us when we must stand without also giving that person the authority to tell us when we must kneel. We can’t surrender the right to be quiet without also yielding the right to speak up.

If being Americans means anything, it is this.

No one gets to tell us when we must stand.

No one gets to tell us when we must kneel or bow down.

No one gets to tell us when we must speak or when we must applaud.

No one gets to tell us when we must shut up.

No one.

No one.



The president’s spokesperson says he was telling a joke when he called people who disagreed with him “treasonous” and “un-American.”

Maybe Donald Trump was trying to be humorous. Maybe he wasn’t.

If it was a joke, it wasn’t a funny one.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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