(Ashland, Ore.) — The contentious 2016 presidential campaign inspired Southern Oregon University English professor Ed Battistella, and the result is a new book examining the history of presidential insults and invective.
“Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels: Insulting the President, from Washington to Trump,” was published last month by the Oxford University Press.
The book documents more than 500 presidential insults and spares none of the 45 U.S. presidents. Holders of the nation’s highest political office have been called “ignoramuses,” “idiots” and “fatheads,” and have drawn comparisons to creatures including “sad jellyfish” and “strutting crows.”
“I’ve always loved history and was curious about the insults and invective used in earlier elections,” he said. “Our language provides plenty of ways to insult those in power and our Constitution gives us the right to do it.”
Battistella’s new book demonstrates that insulting the president is a time-honored American tradition.
“It was a pleasure to read a book that made me laugh aloud,” U.S. Senate historian emeritus Donald A. Ritchie said in his review of the book. “Edwin Battistella has done an impressive job of documenting and explaining the history of presidential ignominy. I suspect that readers will be sending him their favorite insults for the next edition.”
“It’s an engaging, thought-provoking look at a tradition as old as the republic and as immediate as the next election,” said Rosemarie Ostler, author of “Splendiferous Speech.”
Battistella is the author of several books, including Oregon Book Award finalist “Bad Language” and “Sorry about That: The Language of Public Apology.”
He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers College and his master’s degree and doctorate in linguistics from the City University of New York. He teaches linguistics and writing at SOU.
Battistella wrote in an April 1 opinion piece for Time Magazine that presidential insults are an unwelcomed but expected part of the job for U.S. commanders in chief.
“Today, Donald Trump characterizes reporting he does not like as ‘fake news’ and has called the mainstream press ‘enemies of the people,’ Battistella wrote. “But part of the genius of American democracy – both in our legal system and in our politics – is that citizens can openly insult the president.
“We enjoy protections of freedom of speech and freedom of the press that other nations do not, and our freedoms allow us to direct invective at the president with legal impunity.”