Insults: Part of the American campaign

Donald Trump isn't the first to toss insults. American campaigns have always been rough and tumble. Image: StudyHall.Rocks.
Donald Trump isn't the first to toss insults. American campaigns have always been rough and tumble. Image: StudyHall.Rocks.
Donald Trump has described fellow Republican Jeb Bush as “terrible,” argued that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton would make a "horrible" president and derided the heroism of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a prisoner of war in Vietnam. This was before he took aim at journalist Megyn Kelly.

     During a Fox News Channel debate Aug. 6, Kelly asked Trump about the various negative remarks he had made regarding women. One day later, Trump complained about the question to CNN and said that Kelly had "blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her ... wherever."
     It seemed as though he had taken political discourse to a new low. But in fairness, insults have been a staple of the American political scene since the country’s founding. Here are a few examples:

  • The election of 1800: President John Adams was running for a second term, and his opponent was his vice president, Thomas Jefferson. Rhetoric was heated and personal. One newspaper warned that a Jefferson presidency would mean, “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced,” according to the Miller Center for Public Affairs at the University of Virginia. The propagandist James Callender, then a Jefferson supporter, called Adams a  "'repulsive pedant,' a 'gross hypocrite' and 'in his private life, one of the most egregious fools upon the continent,'" recounts historian David McCullough in the book, John Adams (Simon & Schuster; 2001). Jefferson won.
  • The election of 1828: This dust-up involved John Quincy Adams, the second president's son, and Andrew Jackson. Adams “was accused of using taxpayers' money for personal benefit and of offering up an American servant girl to satiate the desires of the Czar of Russia,” recounts an article on the Duke University website. “Jackson was accused of being a gambler, a duelist and a slave trader.  He and his wife were also labeled adulterers.” Jackson won, but sadly, his wife died before he took office.
  • The election of 1884: The Republican, James G. Blaine of Maine, faced Grover Cleveland, a Democrat from New York. The campaign focused on the morality of both men, according to William A. DeGregorio in The Complete Book of U.S. Presidents (Barricade Books; 2013). Blaine allegedly profited from influence peddling, becoming a millionaire despite his $5,000 annual salary as a congressman. (See: Presidential Elections: President’s Day Presentation, Central Michigan University.) Opponents taunted him: “Blaine! Blaine! James G. Baine! Continental liar from the state of Maine.” Cleveland, on the other hand, had fathered an illegitimate child, and his opponents also had a chant: “Ma, Ma, where’s my Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha.” Cleveland won.
  • The election of 1928: The combatants were Herbert Hoover, a Republican, and Al Smith, a Democrat. Smith was a Catholic, and anti-Catholic bias was still prevalent. As put by the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia, the Ku Klux Klan distributed literature claiming that Smith would “take orders from the Pope, declare all Protestant children illegitimate, annul Protestant marriages, and establish Catholicism as the nation's official religion. When Smith addressed a massive rally in Oklahoma City on the subject of religious intolerance, fiery KKK crosses burned around the stadium and a hostile crowd jeered him as he spoke.” (Hoover won. Three decades would elapse before the election of the first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy, in 1960.)
  • The election of 2004: John Kerry, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, unsuccessfully challenged President George W. Bush, a Republican. During the campaign, a liberal organization ran an advertisement questioning whether Bush evaded active duty in Vietnam. (An Internet ad compared Bush to Hitler.) An organization with conservative leanings ran an advertisement that labeled Kerry as a traitor and raised questions about his record as commander of a swift boat during the Vietnam War, the Miller Center recounted.



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