Elections are scary. There’s a definite finality to them — somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. For the next four years, the victors feel comfortable, knowing that the “big chair” in the Oval Office is occupied by a sympathetic mind. The losers, however, are listless. Their mandate will not, and never will, occupy the White House.
The feeling of loss on campus is notable, yet to an extent unremarkable. The loss one feels after a candidate loses is very real, and given Yalies’ affinity for politics, completely expected. What is not so natural, however, is the tendency of students to call this election abnormal. In fact, throughout the history of the United States, there is a history of depicting “the other side” as ignorant, tasteless people who, without reason, hate a particular group of the population.
We’ve all seen ads from the past, which reveal how unexceptional this election has been. In “Confessions of a Republican” in 1964, Lyndon Johnson portrays Barry Goldwater as an unreasonable fascist. The ad itself featured a monologue from a man telling us he had previously voted for Eisenhower and Nixon, but now worries about the “men with strange ideas,” “weird groups” and “the head of the Ku Klux Klan,” who were supporting Goldwater. He concludes that “either they’re not Republicans, or I’m not.” Does that sound familiar today? How about 1968, when Richard Nixon ran to restore “law and order” to a country divided by racial issues, promising to end Earl Warren’s liberal court and restore the nation to an earlier time?
Surely, some say, our founding fathers didn’t want it this way: Elections were designed to be won by men (and women) of character. The contemporary assumption is that “schlonged” is unpresidential, that base insults and physical degradation are unique to this election. This just isn’t true. Take Thomas Jefferson, who in the founding years of America, hired one James Callender, a newspaper editor, to defame Adams by calling him “a hideous, hermaphroditical character which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.”
Fast forward two centuries. In 2004, John Kerry was “swift-boated” by George W. Bush ’68, who attacked his military record. This strategy, however, was nothing new. John Quincy Adams attacked Andrew Jackson for disobeying direct military orders during the invasion of Spanish Florida, effectively accusing him of treason.
Adams also said that Jackson was unfit to rule because he had a previously married spouse, as if the quality of one’s character was somehow implicated by one’s domestic arrangements. Rachel Jackson, Andrew Jackson’s wife, grew violently ill during the latter part of the campaign, eventually dying. Jackson swore to punish the then defeated Adams, putting him in jail if need be. The election between Jackson and Adams was so bitter that Jackson refused to visit Adams before the inauguration. “Any man who would permit a public journal, under his control, to assault the reputation of a respectable female, much less the wife of his rival and competitor for first office in the world was not entitled to the respect of any honorable man,” he argued.
I know that people are disappointed, and that there are serious questions about the respectability of the candidate our nation has elected. These questions, however, are nothing new. It’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with our next president, for any number of reasons. It’s just important to keep in mind that the mudslinging of the campaign is just that, mudslinging, and that our nation has a long history of it. As has happened for the entirety of American history, the country will move on. Each election has a winner and a loser, and someone is always left out. Though the examples I have cited do not justify the actions of badly behaved politicians, history often has a calming effect. Take solace in the fact that our system works, that our country will soldier on and that although our politicians may not always be beautiful, our process is.
Declan Kunkel is a sophomore in Morse College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .