No doubt, this primary season has not been dull, with all it's accusations and name calling that abound, and nothing less short of character assassinations. Good Times, Good Times.
But these days, there's really no way to fight back against attacks on your personal honor. You can whine like a little girl about them on Facebook, or you can respond with your own twitter jabs, but little else. We've spent centuries tempering our Darwinian instinct to swing our clubs at the heads of anyone who threaten or insult us. This has I guess served society quite well. And yet, I can't help but wonder if the lack of consequence associated with our words and deeds has fed another kind of detrimental vulgarism.
People typically adjust their behavior to the level of risk they face, or so the theory goes. Would Dingy Harry Reid falsely accuse Mitt Romney of not paying his taxes if the latter could challenge the Nevada senator to a duel to regain his good standing? Would a politician question an opponent's faith if that opponent could prove his piousness by shooting the accuser dead? Probably not.
Not that most duels ever ended in bloodshed, mind you. Few could afford a good sword, and early pistols were notoriously inaccurate and unreliable. Combatants were often represented by a second, a friend, colleague, trusted member of society, or relative, who would diligently negotiate a resolution between the parties to avoid any real violence, and opponents usually wound tying one on together at the local pub.
If it ever got to the fight there were strict set of codified rules that all gentleman must follow. Today, they can’t even follow debate rules. The 'Code Duello', written by a gaggle of Irishmen, contained more than two dozen rules for would-be duelists (for example, the number of shots or wounds that would satisfy honor). Later an American version of dueling etiquette was written called “The Code of Honor; Or Rules for the Government of Principals and Seconds in Duelling.”
Unlike Europe, where dueling was based on aristocratic honor codes and restricted to men of certain classes, here in egalitarian America, men of all backgrounds could participate in duels. And women would as well. Most famously, in 1792’s “Petticoat Duel,” Lady Almeria Braddock challenged Mrs. Elphinstone after the latter said some unflattering words about the former’s age. The two dueled in Hyde Park, first with pistols before taking up swords to settle the matter. To the sadness of their husbands, both survived.
Andrew Jackson himself supposedly participated in six duels with much success. And no less an American hero, young Abraham Lincoln was almost involved in a duel before honor was restored. Is Donald Trump a more honorable man than Abe Lincoln? I think not!
Right now, the leading candidate in the GOP race is celebrated by his fans for his vulgarity and eagerness to attack the dignity of others. People confuse this incivility, and he's not alone, as a statement against political correctness. It isn't. That would entail using ideological or cultural rhetoric that others have deemed morally unacceptable. Not calling a rival candidate a “pussy.” Yet, the more personal and boorish his invective gets, the more Trump fans are awe-struck.
I think we can all agree dueling could be a much-needed corrective. No?
Now, please don't misunderstand, I'm not saying violence IS the answer. I'm saying violence is AN answer. Because sometimes a witty retort on Twitter simply can't recapture your lost honor. Dueling would confer consequences onto all the ugly, dishonest, uncouth, untrue, and defamatory things people say about you or your family. Yes, some politicians might be struck down if we allowed this ancient combat to reemerge in contemporary society. But I'm sure that's a sacrifice most of us would be willing to make.
And if it came down to a duel during the general election between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, I'd have to put 20 bucks on Trump. He'd have a much wider target to shoot at then she would......