Ostracism was an interesting feature of the Athenian democracy, if you can call a city-state which granted the suffrage only to adult male land owners a democracy. About 30 to 50 thousand of about 300 thousand Athenians were eligible to vote. Unsurprisingly, democracy in Athens lasted little more than a century. Ostracism derives its name from ostraka, which were the pottery shards which were used as voting tokens in Athens.

Here’s how ostracism worked in ancient Athens. Once year the voters were asked whether they wanted to hold an ostracism. If they voted yes, then the ostracism vote was held two month later. The voters would mark their shards with the name of whomever they wanted ostracized. If they were illiterate, as many were, a scribe would write the name for them. Provided a quorum voted, the person who received the largest number of shards was ostracised. No reason was given, nor was there any appeal. If the voters thought you were a threat or just didn’t like you, you were out. The ostracised person (typically a politician or VIP) had 10 days to leave. His exclusionary term was 10 years. If he returned before then, the sentence was death. There was no loss of property or status involved. You just had to leave for 10 years. On occasion, usually during an emergency, the ostracised person could be recalled.

Now, think about how such a system would work in the US. As we are 1,000 times larger than Athens during it ostracising days we could divide the country into a 1,000 exclusion zones, each one of which would take an annual vote whether or not to hold an ostracising poll. If the vote was affirmative, a second election would determine who the biggest pain in the posterior was and then kick him/her out of the country. I would suggest Canada as the site of the decennial exile; they love to take in strays. Property and other rights would be retained by the banished person. As for the death penalty for premature return, well that’s another story.

Think of the chances for schadenfreude; they are endless. Suppose Beverly Hills and Watts we put in the same kick out zone. The opportunities for gerrymandering are irresistible. A movie star or moghul could be deported to Canada every year. You think you’re on top of the world and the next moment you literally are. Canarsie and Brooklyn Heights might be together. We could get rid of a lot of politicians and media busybodies. I’d better not push this too far as I might be sent north. My current city of residence would be one ostracising zone. Ostracism could replace football as our national pastime. A decade in Canada is better than chronic traumatic encephalopathy, I think.

On to ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ which is the way it’s spelled in the Constitution. You’ll commonly hear politicians and media buzzards talk about whether some act by an federal officer they don’t like, typically the president, reaches the level of high crimes and misdemeanors as if they were different things. The term dates back to old English common law and is meant to be taken as a whole. It was in wide use when the constitution was written. It didn’t necessarily require a serious offense by an officeholder to be invoked; in fact, a crime wasn’t necessary. In general, it meant just about anything from malfeasance to doing a lousy job. Ben Franklin thought being obnoxious was enough to impeach and convict an officeholder.

“Prior to the Clinton investigation, the House had begun impeachment proceedings against only 17 officials —one U.S. senator, two presidents, one cabinet member, and 13 federal judges. Two of the17 resigned from office before the House voted to impeach. Of the 15 impeached, the Senate voted to convict only seven — all were federal judges. [One of these removed judges currently sit in the House of Representatives. NAK] The Senate dropped the case against the senator, ruling that a senator could not be impeached. One judge resigned from office before the Senate voted on his case. The Senate voted to acquit the other six officials.” Quotation from High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Thus, impeachment and conviction is a rare process that is mainly political in character. For it to be successfully used against a president would require that he greatly exceed the degree of obnoxiousness mentioned by Franklin. Plain ordinary obnoxiousness would get rid of most everyone in the federal government. The grounds for applying ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ is totally whatever congress wishes them to be. In practice, it’s very unlikely that a president will be removed from office given that it takes two thirds of the senators present to convict. But thinking about it makes for good theater. Of course, if we went back to the Athenians we could send anyone we didn’t like to Canada.