Insulting the president is an American tradition. From Washington to Trump, presidents have been called "lazy," "feeble," "pusillanimous," and more. Our leaders have been derided as "ignoramuses," "idiots," "morons," and "fatheads," and have been compared to all manner of animals—worms and whales and hyenas, sad jellyfish, strutting crows, lap dogs, reptiles, and monkeys.
Political insults tell us what we value in our leaders by showing how we devalue them. In Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels, linguist Edwin Battistella collects over five hundred insults aimed at American presidents. Covering the broad sweep of American history, he puts insults in their place—the political and cultural context of their times. Along the way, Battistella illustrates the recurring themes of political insults: too little intellect or too much, inconsistency or obstinacy, worthlessness, weakness, dishonesty, sexual impropriety, appearance, and more. The kinds of insults we use suggest what our culture finds most hurtful, and reveal society's changing prejudices as well as its most enduring ones. How we insult presidents and how they react tells us about the presidents, but it also tells us about our nation's politics.
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