When a recent Twitter exchange between Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Donald Trump resulted in one calling the other a “liar” and a “loser,” pundits launched another chorus about the growing nastiness of our national political discourse. But is our political discourse, in fact, getting nastier?

The historical record suggests that when it comes to presidential politics, nasty is nothing new. Thomas Jefferson once called John Adams “a hideous hermaphroditical character.” Adams missed no opportunity to remind his fellow Americans that Jefferson was a godless libertine, a Francophile (back then, as in the 2004 election, France was considered the f-word) and a boor whom even Martha Washington didn’t like. Abraham Lincoln said Stephen Douglas’s theories about popular sovereignty were “as thin as the homeopathic soup that was made by boiling the shadow of a pigeon that had starved to death.” You get the idea.

The better question may be: If we could scroll that far back in Twitter history, what would the presidential snark of yore have looked like? Perhaps something like this.


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