Building on a discussion by Roger L. Simon, Robert Prather laments how hateful and irrational US politics has become in the last few years. His early commenters try to fix the starting point, arguing over Iran-Contra, Dan Quayle’s nomination, and the Bork hearings.
I’d put the beginning just a bit earlier like, say, the 1770s. The Patriots were routinely rounding Tories up for torture, including tarring and feathering. Absolutely brutal editorials in newspapers that didn’t even pretend to be non-partisan. In ensuing years, we had canings on the floor of the Senate. Duels between major politicians. The Alien and Sedition Acts. . .
Even in recent times, there has been quite a bit of vitriol. Things were pretty nasty in the 1960s, too, what with the reactions to the civil rights movement and Vietnam.
In the 1970s, there was Watergate and some pretty visceral reactions to Jimmy Carter’s idealism. People forget how apoplectic many were over his decision to pardon the Vietnam draft dodgers and cede control over the Panama Canal.
In the 1980s, there was Reagan. Democrats had almost exactly the same reaction to Reagan as they do to Bush today. The only differences were that the election itself was somewhat less controversial (although, even there, we had the “October surprise” nonsense) and Reagan was a harder target for attack because of his superior communication skills.
George H.W. Bush didn’t attract the same vitriol as the other presidents of the era, but that’s mainly because he was so bland. And, even there, we had all the “silver foot in has ma-ath” and “where was George” nonsense.
Honestly, I’m not sure there ever was a civil era in U.S. politics.