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Not applauding the president is not treason, a Mason professor explains

February 8, 2018

James Pfiffner

President Donald Trump’s characterization that those who did not stand or applaud his remarks during the State of the Union address were performing a treasonous act reminds George Mason University professor James Pfiffner of another national leader, Louis XIV of France.

L’etat c’est moi," the king declared. Translation: “I am the state.”

“It was an absolute monarch claiming all power and personal ownership of the state,” said Pfiffner, who is a University Professor in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government. “And this is anathema to a democratic republic.”

Pfiffner, who studies the U.S. presidency and teaches American National Government, adds that Trump’s use of the word treason was not constitutionally accurate. Trump was, Pfiffner suggested, “conflating himself with the country and claiming that those not loyal to himself—as defined by showing insufficient enthusiasm about his speech—are guilty of treason against the United States.”

For the record, here is Article III, Sec. 3 of the U.S. Constitution: "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."

Pfiffner is doubtful not applauding or not giving a standing ovation fulfills that transgression.

James Pfiffner can be reached at or 703-993-1417.

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George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 36,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.