I'm reading, American Lion, Jon Meacham's biography focused on Andrew Jackson's two term as President, and Meacham's writing about pre-Civil War America unmistakably echoes the present day polarization of America. Here's one example (p. 58):
The rise of a nation with a large number of voters..., dependent for infomration and opinion on partisan newspapers, meant that a president had to project an image at once strong and simple. His ideas should be expressed clearly for the ordinary voter, who ... had only so much time and energy to devote to divining the details of a leader's political creed. In a democracy like the one taking shape in America, the people considered both the content of a politician's message and their impression of his character in deciding whether to support him. George Washington was the first and greatest such example, a man called to power not only because of his views but also for his reassuring bearing. He was a man with whom the people felt comfortable. Jackson's political appeal came out of the same tradition - a tradition in which a leader creates a covenant of mutual confidence between himself and the broader public. If the people believe in the man, then the more likely they are to give him the benefit of the doubt on the details of governance.We of course have only recently emerged from a period when having a beer with a recovering alcoholic was the perverse standard of our selection of a president. Maybe we haven't even emerged, given the continued prominence of beer diplomacy.
One big difference between now and the 1820s and 1830s is how thoroughly electronic media worm their selling messages into our lives. Two centuries ago, a yeoman farmer could at least escape the bullshit of so much political image-making for the much more useful and less noxious real cow patties. Now the caf at work plays Fox propaganda all day, and many of its viewers buy it long before all the smears and adulterants can be composted out.
Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
Update (7/30): Of course, big shallow fetid media outlets want to keep politics on the level of beer-drinking. Why not girls in bikinis, too?