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Politics

It's very clear: Political rancor is here to stay




In this composite image, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton respond to questions during the town hall debate at Washington University on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.
In this composite image, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump (L) and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton respond to questions during the town hall debate at Washington University on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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Few would deny that the current race for the White House has been a bit contentious:

https://youtu.be/Hbh2qXBMjuY?t=12s

Today's televised tussles are enough to make some people nostalgic for a simpler time in politics. 

https://youtu.be/-IW6PwJYcOc?t=5m3s

A time when candidates clashed over important issues and few blows were below the belt. 

https://youtu.be/jrnRU3ocIH4?t=40s

It may be too late to change the tone of this presidential race, but it does raise a question: on November 9th, the morning after the election, will we see the return of political civility, or is this the new tone of politics? 

For a look at the past, present and future of political rancor, Take Two spoke to Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia's Miller Center.

Interview highlights

I want to take a look back at civility in American politics. I know things are different this election cycle. Have politics always been so polite in this country? 

Absolutely not. It's always good to get the historical context so that we don't think that we're living in times that we haven't experienced before. 

All we have to do is go back to just after our founding, which we should note, was by a bloody revolution. The founders, as they walked out of Philadelphia after they wrote our new constitution, they divided into two parties, and as soon as they divided into two parties, one for the new constitution, one against, they began to be a little bit pointed in their rhetoric. 

The newspapers at that time were partisan, and they'd make really nasty comments about each other including in 1800, the Federalists calling Democratic-Republican Thomas Jefferson an atheist and claiming that he had fathered a child with one of his slaves. We can go all the way back to our founding and find mischief in how people dealt with each other. 

So what we're going through isn't new.

I wouldn't go that far. 

On November 9th, will we maybe get back to some civility? 

Wouldn't that be wonderful? We can dream. I'm always an optimist as a political scientist who appreciates American history and knows that we go through these bad cycles including the Civil War and that we come back to the better angels of our nature, as Lincoln called it. 

I don't think that, come November 9th, we'll all wake up, and this will just seem like a bad nightmare: first of all, I think people will be exhausted, and I do hope that we'll take a long look at ourselves and say we can do better, we have done better in the past, let's make this a better system. 

Press the blue play button above to hear the full interview. 

(Questions and answers have been edited for clarity.)

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