The surprise attack on Hawaii came on a quiet Sunday morning, and it fell to the president of the United States to rally a confused and stricken nation one day later in a momentous address to Congress:

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941—a date which will live as totally fucked up—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by the naval and air forces of Japan.”

That’s the power of language at work. And who can forget the image of an American commander in chief in Berlin on the front lines of the Cold War: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this fucking wall.”

Let’s be mature about this. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan both surely dropped a choice word or two in private, even on solemn subjects like Pearl Harbor and Soviet tyranny. Democrat Beto O’Rourke, meanwhile, has not actually signaled that he will make the F-bomb a central part of his rhetorical arsenal in the unlikely event he becomes the next president.

He is, however, apparently hoping that vulgarity will be an engine of his political revival in the Democratic presidential contest. In doing so, he is part of a confluence of factors serving to mainstream what once counted as the most forbidden entry in the roster of four-letter words.

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