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Monday, March 7, 2016

Something to look forward to

Political Dueling
By J.T. Caswell, Progressive Charlestown guest columnist

It’s a safe bet that nowhere in our nation’s august annals of political discourse can there be found anything as pre-pubescent and vulgar as the dialogue in the current Republican presidential debates. 
Just when it’s assumed that they couldn’t stoop any lower, the candidates debated penis size.

What’s next -- flatulence or, more likely, their dirty diapers? I don’t even know the verbal details of the latest fiasco. I read the headlines, saw images of Trump mockingly measuring anatomy, and filled in the dialogue myself. 

Who above the age of 5 could not do the same?

As puerile as it's become, contemporary political debate is in one significant measure more “enlightened” than some historical precedents.
Debate prep?

Death threats have yet to be uttered. 

Absent are “honor disputes” that characterized this nation's nascent years and led to at least one deadly duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. Burr and Hamilton were Enlightenment Era thinkers, writers, and speakers who were intellectual giants compared to the 2016 candidates.  

Venomous rhetoric punctuated their oratorical elegance.  Hamilton called Burr, among other things, “a profligate, a voluptuary in the extreme.”  In the early 19th Century, that constituted a low blow, but the rhetoric is poetry compared to the inanity that Trump, et. al. are shamelessly spewing at each other.

Each of the current GOP candidates has vowed, should he lose, to support the eventual party nominee in the general election, which apparently means they will not settle their petty differences with pistol duels.  

This is either evidence of our species' incremental evolution, or the stakes have yet to be raised high enough. 

If ever anybody had reason to bear a grudge, it was Burr against Hamilton.  Hamilton robbed Burr of the 1800 presidential election by influencing Federalist allies in the House of Representatives to break an Electoral College tie between Burr and Thomas Jefferson. 

Eventually, Vice-President Burr became aware that President Jefferson planned to drop him from the ticket in the 1804 election, so Burr chose to run for governor of New York. 

Apparently Hamilton liked to kick a man when he was down. His relentless contumely cost Burr that election as well.  

Something about Hamilton’s phrase “a more despicable opinion of Mr. Burr” set Mr. Burr off.  Hamilton could have exercised discretion over valor by apologizing and avoiding the duel. 

He also could have fired the first shot into the ground, as the accepted, face and life-saving protocol for duels allowed.

Instead, he chose to die like his equally vitriolic son Philip did on the same Weehawken, New Jersey dueling field roughly two years earlier.  Burr eventually escaped authorities and quixotically planned to annex and rule the lands Jefferson acquired in the Louisiana Purchase.

In another famous duel, Andrew Jackson killed horse trader Charles Dickinson, who insulted Jackson's wife. While Burr became a tragic hero, an imperious fugitive clinging to his honor in reaction to perceived injustices, Jackson acted according to his era's accepted codes of chivalry. 

A case could be made that both men were probably borderline psychotic, yet by abiding by honor codes, they successfully preserved their dignity.

Dignity has apparently abandoned the current GOP presidential field. Presidential politics has become theater of the absurd, by the absurd and for the absurd, and our national ethos, however broadly or narrowly it can be defined, has suffered.  

And if the Republican primary is a manifestation of modern man's intellectual apex, it appears we’re headed in the opposite direction.  Dark Ages, here we come…or are.