Politics Has Never Been So Divisive And Mean — Lies, It’s Been Worse

“wide road with vehicle traveling with white dome building” by Jorge Alcala on Unsplash

I try and avoid writing and talking about politics — specifically so on Medium. I prefer to concentrate on interesting stories that engage the imagination and encourage the reader to think. However, sometimes in your life you come across a recurring theme. This theme is repeated over and over and treated as if it’s gospel. It doesn’t matter if the theme is correct or not, it’s just repeated and if you argue with it, you’re thought of as a dunce.

This current theme I hear repeated by well-pressed suits with perfectly styled hair. These talking heads, claiming to be experts on politics, repeat this theme almost verbatim across the television channels. What is their current mantra they repeat?

Politics has never been so mean and divisive!

I’m not an expert on politics either, I’ll freely admit. However, I do consider myself a history nerd. So, I see a major problem with this often repeated mantra. Politics has always been messy, angry, and visceral. Even the genteel gentlemen of the past, who wore powdered wigs and dainty breeches, were terrible towards each other when fighting over political office or ideals.

Now, either these perfectly pressed talking heads are ignorant of these facts or are intentionally misleading the public to increase their ratings. Either way, they’re not sitting in a good position. I often laugh when I see the outrage on their faces when talking about a mean campaign. This mean campaign is nothing compared to some of the forays past American politicians went on.

Vicious Verbal Attacks: Jefferson vs Adams

When one thinks of a well-spoken and well behaved politician or political leader, founding fathers of the United States may be imagined. They created the longest continuously used constitution on the planet. The Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are beautiful documents. If you read their letters, they were well spoken and used flowery language. However just like modern times, they behaved badly in the political arena.

An easy example of our founding fathers behaving badly in the political arena would have to be the presidential campaign between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. They may have been friendly when working together in the past, but the presidential campaign was an all-out war. These two founding titans of America went into the gutter. Actually, they climbed into the gutter, got a shovel and dug much lower.

Presidential Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by by Rembrandt Peale, 1800
John Adams is a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”

Ouch! Yeah, the Jefferson camp went there. What was the reply you ask?

John Adams painted by Gilbert Stuart 1800 / 1815
Thomas Jefferson is “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

I know what you’re thinking, if only we could go back to the genteel nature of campaigns of yesteryear. Yes, that was pretty mean and awful commentary. It’s always cited that these comments were made by members of Adam’s and Jefferson’s political camps. However, the two gentlemen running didn’t stop their camps from saying these things. That was just one piece of the fun that went on between the two. At one point Jefferson actually hired someone to write slanderous articles about Adams. These articles claimed that Adams wanted to attack France and Americans should vote against him.

A Political Shoot Out Of A Different Nature: Hamilton vs Burr

Alexander Hamilton: painting by John Trumbull 1806

Politics of our founding father’s era didn’t just end in slander and mean words. It also ended in death in one particular squabble. One of our founding fathers that recently had a famous resurgence has been Alexander Hamilton. Well known for his fantastic dancing ability in the current age, Mr. Hamilton was also the United States’ first Secretary of the Treasury. I could list his other accomplishments, but that would be longer than my entire article.

Apparently, Hamilton managed to run afoul of Aaron Burr. Burr was the current vice president of the United States and was running for the governor of New York. Burr lost terribly in the election and Hamilton was one of his detractors. A letter had been circulated, which referred to Hamilton demeaning Burr. Burr demanded a written apology, which Hamilton declined to make in order to keep his honor intact. Eventually a duel was arranged in 1804 between Hamilton and Burr.

Dueling had been declared illegal in New York, so the pair decided to duel in New Jersey. You couldn’t legally duel in New Jersey either, but the penalty was much less in Jersey — the penalty in New York was death. So these well accomplished men lined up with guns and Hamilton was killed. Not only was Hamilton killed in a duel, he was killed by a CURRENT vice president of the United States! Talk about politics being mean and divisive. Burr never saw any jail time for this killing as well.

A Political Beat Down On The Senate Floor: Sumner And Brooks

Southern Chivalry — Argument versus Club’s: By John L. Magee 1856

It was one of the most contentious times in the United States’ history. In May 22, 1856 the nation was divided by the evil of slavery. Anti-slavery Republicans battled in Congress with pro-slavery Democrats. A Northern Senator from Massachusetts, Charles Sumner had delivered a lively speech condemning two Southern Senators. These Southern Senators had crafted a bill that ended the Missouri Compromise and allowed new states to choose whether they wanted to accept slavery.

During his speech, Sumner referred to a Southern Senator Andrew Butler as having

“a mistress … who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, Slavery,”

Butler was not in the chamber at the time of this speech. However, a cousin of Butler did hear the speech and was infuriated. Preston Brooks came into the senate chamber and began to savagely beat Sumner over the head with a gold tipped cane. The beating left Sumner knocked unconscious. Brooks beat Sumner so viciously, the cane snapped. The beating only stopped when Brooks was restrained by bystanders in the Senate. However, some had been cheering on the beating. The beating had left Sumner so damaged, he wouldn’t return to the Senate for 3 years.

Conclusion

Elections are on the way, so I’m sure you’ll be hearing the mantra again.

Politics has never been so mean and divisive!

Just remember, politics has always been mean and divisive. It will always be mean and divisive. This golden age of friendly political engagements never really existed for the most part. Power seems to suspend the better nature of individuals and it always will. So what’s your response to this recurring problem then?

Don’t take part in the viciousness.

Just because your neighbor doesn’t agree with you, he or she isn’t evil. They just don’t agree with you. At the end of an election or debate, they’ll still be your neighbor. Let the politicians live in the gutter, that’s their lifestyle. You’re of a better nature, or at least you should try to be. Don’t lower yourself to their level.

I often think of a woman named Paulina Plaksej who lived in Poland in 1941. The Nazis had invaded and were in the process of rounding up Jews. Paulina and her family hid and fed numerous Jews at the risk of their own lives. She was declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations. That’s a special honor given by the State Of Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives during the Holocaust to save Jews.

When Paulina was asked how the Righteous became that way she replied:

“The righteous didn’t suddenly become righteous. They just refused to go over the cliff with everybody else”​

That’s your answer to this question. Don’t go over the cliff with everybody else. When passions run high and everybody hates each other over a politician, don’t go over the cliff with everybody else. Remain who you are and leave the ugliness to the politicians. They’ll never change, but you should retain who you are and not lose yourself in the mess.

One final note. If you do plan on getting into a duel in the near future, do it in New Jersey. Apparently the people in New York get all pissy when you do it there.

Thank you for reading my ramblings. If you enjoyed what you’ve read, please share.