In the wee hours of the morning on St. Patrick’s Day, President Trump tapped out some tweets that, as usual, made headlines. Bashing Saturday Night Live for their impressions of him and commentary on the current administration, the tweets culminated in the usual claims of “Fake News” and questioned if the show should be investigated by the FCC.

It seems like these days half the news cycle is the president complaining about being mistreated by the media and in the wake of this, Americans seem to constantly question where civility and respectability have disappeared to in the realm of politics. I question where people got the notion that politics have ever been civil or respectful to begin with.

Historically, political feuds date back to our country’s founding with one of the most famous being between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. The line “pissed him off until we had a two-party system” from Hamilton is no exaggeration. The two men founded the original American political parties to counteract the others’ views, bad mouthed each other to President Washington and even went so far as taking the rivalry public by having newspapers print satirical pieces on one another.

While famous, Jefferson and Hamilton’s interactions are mild in comparison to some political disputes. A particularly memorable occasion involves literal blood on the Senate floor.

In the buildup to the Civil War the American political scene was in chaos around debates about whether new states should be admitted to the Union as slave or free. As a part of one of these debates Senator Charles Sumner, an abolitionist from Massachusetts, referred to two pro-slavery senators respectively as a “noise-some, squat, and nameless animal . . . not a proper model for an American senator” and to be taking “a mistress . . . who, though ugly to others, is always lovely to him; though polluted in the sight of the world, is chaste in his sight — I mean the harlot, Slavery.” The latter described senator was from South Carolina, the same state as Representative Preston Brooks who took offense to Sumner’s remarks on the the senator’s behalf. Brooks decided to take retribution into his own hands and proceeded to beat Sumner in the head with a metal topped cane once the Senate had adjourned for the day.

The Sumner Caning is the clearest example of American politics being anything but civil or respectful. It’s undeniable that this event was violent, rude, unnecessary and inherently political. Being attacked on the Senate floor and having to be carried out bleeding? For mocking your political opponents? Modern politics are tame in comparison.

Now you might want to argue that these are politicians attacking each other rather than members of the American public attacking politicians, yet there’s historical precedence for that too. Though, modern society may not view these as attacks through lens of a history class, that was undeniably their original purpose.

The Great Depression saw the direct action of World War I veterans and their families as the “Bonus Army” flooded Washington, D.C. demanding the government immediately pay in full their promised pensions. The group camped for weeks, protesting and near-rioting eventually ending when President Hoover set the U.S. army on them, injuring many and killing one during the chaos. The Bonus Army remained in D.C. for the sole purpose of putting pressure on politicians to pay what they were promised for their service in WWI. Though the event ended in violence, the protestors themselves were inherently nonviolent and had strict rules dictating behavior.

Exercising the First Amendment right to assembly and peaceful protests have gone hand in hand. Yet, like the Bonus Army, each one of these is a direct attack on the American government by the American people. If you find the Bonus Army example lacking, then I point you to the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War Protests.

The First Amendment’s protections extend to another historical practice of political attacks that has carried through to modern day. The tried and true political cartoon. These satirical takes on everything from policies to the politicians behind them have been, arguably, on level with some of the brawls that have happened within Congress.

Newspapers and the artists behind the cartoons have been using the images to point out flaws and falsities as well as note actions that Americans have not necessarily agreed with for centuries. From the “King Andrew the First” cartoon critiquing Andrew Jackson’s expansion of presidential power and making him out to be a tyrant on the level of King George III to “The Big Stick in the Caribbean” that questions Theodore Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick” approach to foreign policy. These cartoons were the precursors to modern political satires like Saturday Night Live.

Like satire itself, politicians complaining about satire is nothing new. The Supreme Court ruled on satire in 1988 in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell pointing to the history of political cartoons as precedence and the Rehnquist Opinion stating “[a]t the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas and opinions on matters of public interest and concern.” Proving that satire is protected under the First Amendment as a form of political speech.

Saturday Night Live has been categorized as a satirical show for years, and its political cold opens are undeniably political satire which has been proven to be protected. So worry not SNL fans as it’s not only the show’s right to continue their critiques, but in the tradition of their illustrated forefathers their duty. Politics has never been the polite disagreement of ideas that people like to pose it as. So you have every right to complain about politicians and policies. You even have the right to send envelopes full of glitter to those you find having particular failings should you wish. (Just note that the practice of political glitter protests can be considered assault and battery should someone get injured.) Should you choose this form of dissent, there are websites that will send the envelopes anonymously. If anything in the grand tradition you might argue that glittering is your duty as an active part of democracy.


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