This past Tuesday kicked off the first of a series of presidential debates to be held until the November elections, and many Americans would agree it was a rather unforgettable event. Many would characterize it as a telling sign that America is in decline; however, others would say that American politics have built up to this moment for centuries.
Trump and Biden made little room for ambiguity regarding their mutual distaste for one another. Trump, in particular, predictably, went over his allotted time and was sure to interrupt both his moderator and his opponent. While many would say that he made Biden look better, the former Vice President certainly did not seem above name-calling. Both their performances have provoked a change in the format of the debates that is unheard of; however, their behavior is nothing new.
Name-calling in politics is as old as the country itself. John Quincy Adams had once eloquently called Andrew Jackson, “A barbarian who could not write a sentence of grammar and hardly could spell his own name.” On another much later occasion, John Sherman said of James Buchanan, “The Constitution provides for every contingency in the Executive, except a vacancy in the mind of the President.” While it seems that the founding fathers and our predecessors were more “polite” with their insults as opposed to Trump’s “Sleepy Joe” and “Crooked Hillary” nicknames, Adams once called Jackson’s wife an “adulteress,” which is not too far from the comments Trump once made of Ted Cruz’s wife.
It was what wasn’t said that proved to be the more damaging. When asked if he would condemn white supremacy, he avoided doing so by bringing attention to left-wing violence, then he backed into a corner and, overhearing the name of the “Proud Boys” being dropped, confusingly asked that they ” Stand back and stand by.” this seeming refusal has led to his own party deriding him. One would assume that he played coy so as not to divide the part of his voter base that sides with white identity politics. Whatever he meant by his actions, he may have lowered his already diminishing approval ratings.