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Some say Donald Trump has broken the political mold. This owes much to Trump’s language. Trump’s language, some of it offensive, isn’t always politically savvy or politically correct. This seems unorthodox; to some, un-American.
But this volatile language isn’t restricted to the Trump domain. In my home state, these fiery words (literally) were fired off by a state rep:
If I were not a Christian and didn’t have a prohibition against suicide, I’d walk across the street, douse myself in gasoline and set myself on fire to protest the evil that is going on over there (at the state Supreme Court).
And then there’s this video from a Democratic political action committee. It highlights kids cussing Donald Trump and shooting Trump the finger.
On the surface, decorum appears dead; the blameworthy villain, 21st century politics … or more specifically, 2016 politics. But none of this is new.* In fact, today’s Trump is on familiar footing with yesterday’s Jefferson.
Over 200 years ago, Thomas Jefferson had some bloodcurdling (again, literally) comments about revolution. Unlike Trump "the speaker," Jefferson penned his comments in letter form. This narrow dissemination doesn’t make Jefferson’s comments any less shocking, considering he’s a Founding Father, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and an intellectual hero to many. Whatever the form, Jefferson’s 200 year-old comments ring loud with 2016 shock value.
Take, for example, the bloody French Revolution. Here’s how Jefferson dismissively put it:
The liberty of the whole earth was depending on the issue of the contest, and was ever such a prize won with so little innocent blood? My own affections have been deeply wounded by some of the martyrs to this cause, but rather than it should have failed, I would have seen half the earth desolated.
Half the earth desolated … yikes!
And a year later, with the Reign of Terror raging, Jefferson implicitly (if not explicitly) sanctioned the bloodshed:
I cannot but hope that that triumph, & the consequent disgrace of the invading tyrants, is destined, in the order of events, to kindle the wrath of the people of Europe against those who have dared to embroil them in such wickedness, and to bring at length, kings, nobles, & priests to the scaffolds which they have been so long deluging with human blood.
Finally, in speaking of Shays’ Rebellion, Jefferson endorsed more blood but this time as a vital refreshment to our liberty:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is a natural manure.
But not to pick on Jefferson. The author of our Declaration of Independence also penned a multitude of enduring wisdoms. Many Americans, however, remember only these wisdoms. Lost are Jefferson’s “yikes” moments … his cringe-worthy words.
So the political language of 2016 is nothing new. It might sound new because we easily forget history … or because Jefferson and our forefathers are legendary. If the latter, be cautious in exalting legends:
Legend remains victorious in spite of history.
- Sarah Bernhardt
*CNN Politics authored a Top 16 list of foul-mouthed politicians, beginning with Barack Obama and reaching back as far as Lyndon B. Johnson.