Is Vulgarity an Impeachable Offense?

Put aside collusion, emoluments, treason, failure to execute laws or the other justifications for impeaching President Trump. Is the knowing use of the word "----hole" or its equivalent "----house" an impeachable offense? The initial response is, of course not. Lots of presidents spoke coarsely. But there's a better and more thoughtful answer: "Maybe".

The constitutional language seems narrow. A Federal Officer may lose his or her position by committing "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors." That seems far from offensive and racist dirty words.

The deeper consequences of these words can lead to a different conclusion. President Gerald Ford summed up reality when he famously said "An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history." That turns out to be true.

Presidents have been impeached twice; Andrew Johnson, on thin legal grounds-impeached and acquitted; and Bill Clinton, on thinner legal grounds-impeached and acquitted. Richard Nixon was almost impeached, for genuine high crimes and misdemeanors, but resigned and was pardoned.

It ought to be difficult to impeach an elected official. Removal from office is sometimes appropriate. Sometimes it's a coup, a pretext for political disagreements. We should proceed carefully.

So the initial answer is easy. Oppose, resist, decry but the remedy for Trump is the next election.

But we can and should take a closer look at what Trump did last week. He did more than offend right-thinking people. He endangered the national interest of the United States by eroding the standing of American in the world, in Africa and Haiti particularly, and by causing a worldwide governmental and popular uprising of public opinion against us.

By itself, this erosion of our national standing and image is awful and dangerous, but it's hard to see it as a high crime.

But if repeated, if a pattern emerges, if our national interest continues to be threatened by his outbursts, then it can and should be deemed a high crime and misdemeanor. Wars start for stupid reasons. Bad people can be provoked by stupidity and coarseness as by more traditional threats. Imagine if you will a Trumpish war of words on North Korea that provokes from them, wrongly, an armed response. Who's responsible then? Is that impeachable?

I think the answer is yes. An intentional course of conduct that irrationally and unnecessarily drags American into danger and conflict and maybe war is a high crime, like bribery or treason.

So the best answer to the question of impeaching Trump for vulgarity is that it's too soon to say. The lesson of "----hole nation" is that Trump is responsible to the American people and to the Congress for the consequences of his words. Repeated vulgarity, other crazy talk, even expressed out of sheer ignorance and stupidity will inevitably threaten the nation in ways that make talk of impeachment rational and necessary.

Both the people and the Congress should now publicly catalog Trump's outbursts and begin to judge them against the constitutional standards for impeachment. It is an unconventional analysis to be sure, but there is no need to wait for a catastrophe to consider our remedies.

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