About half a dozen times in the past few weeks I have been taken aside by a 20-something who’s looking for reassurance that the republic will not end. There has never been any campaign like this in the history of the nation, they say, and they know this is true because they’ve read it everywhere.
“We have officially hit a new low in political discourse,” declared Stephen Colbert (after Trump’s penis allusion on national television). Next, the Huffington Post warned, “Recent violence at Trump rallies marks a new low for American politics.” Not long after that, the Financial Times said: “Trump v Cruz hits new low as wives dragged into fray.”
A new low. A new low? Heavens no, I say, in my best wizened voice. Not even close. Rather than ending the republic, these folks would fit right in with the men who founded it. What’s distressing is not that this adolescent baiting and sniping is unheard of, but that it isn’t. We should have outgrown this by now.
Name calling: Donald Trump, in particular, is so fond of calling people names that a running list of epithets being kept by the New York Times now includes more than 200 of his targets. Not a one of his zingers comes close to what leaders and would-be leaders spat at each other throughout history though, and not just because Trump uses far fewer syllables.
Jefferson’s supporters, for instance, described Adams as suffering from a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams’ supporters in turn called Jefferson “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.” Theodore Roosevelt called Woodrow Wilson “that Byzantine logothete, supported by all the flubdubs, mollycoddles, and flapdoodle pacifists.” (Translation: A logothete is a paper pusher; a flubdub is one who speaks nonsense; to mollycoddle means to treat with kid gloves.)