The quote “History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” is usually attributed to Mark Twain. Whether he actually wrote or said it is up for debate; no matter, most reasonable people accept the notion. Which brings us to the presidential election of 1884, as told by Wesley Pruden, editor-in-chief emeritus of The Washington Times:
“Politics were particularly rowdy in the decades after the War of Northern Aggression, and rarely rowdier than in the year 1884, with Gov. Grover Cleveland of New York, the Democrat, suiting up against James G. Blaine of Maine, the Republican. The Democrats rehashed old allegations of bribes, graft and grease suborned by Blaine, the man in the pocket of railroad barons, the Wall Street villains of his day. Like a presidential candidate we could name, Blaine didn’t brook allegations of sordid behavior but haughtily dismissed them as ‘stale slander.’ This gave Democrats the famous rallying cry, ‘Blaine, Blaine, James G. Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine.’ Not quite as to the point as ‘lock her up!’ But it stirred the masses.”
The Democratic base liked to cite evidence (in the form of letters that concluded “burn this letter”) that Blaine peddled influence when he was speaker of the House. On the other side, Cleveland was nicknamed “Grover the Good,” having graduated from mayor of Buffalo to governor by cleaning out corrupt politicians. Back to Mr. Pruden:
“For his part, Cleveland, a Presbyterian preacher’s son of starchy upright reputation, was accused of fathering an illegitimate child when practicing law in Buffalo. (A preacher’s son misbehaving? A naughty lawyer? Surely not.) The woman was a lady of wide acquaintance, and Cleveland, the only bachelor in the circle of usual suspects, manned up, and unlike another president we could name, took responsibility for his sporting life, and paid child support. But in turn the Democrats accused Blaine and his missus of not having been married when their eldest child was born. Bastardy was not fashionable in that backward day, and the rumor was disproved only after the sell-by date.”
As was the custom, newspapers took sides. Later came the era of “objectivity,” which morphed into subtle liberal bias and now rages as outright partisanship, mostly against Donald Trump and for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Pruden notes: “No one has let passions get out of control like the mainstream press, but only so called, because in the digital era there is no mainstream, only angry tributaries of toxic venom and lethal bile struggling to be the mainstream. All standards of neutrality and intellectual discipline have been abandoned in the race to see who can be the loudest, the shrillest and the most irresponsible in decrying Donald Trump as a traitor, a mass murderer and a Republican (take your pick).”
It must be noted that some of the bias runs the other way; several Fox News hosts with highly rated shows are blatantly pro-Trump. But remember this: Trust in media outlets is at an all-time low, perhaps because so-called gatherers of news are in the same space they were 132 years ago. Many individuals, perhaps even entire cable networks, eventually will be swept out with the tide.
The Cleveland-Blaine election was close, with Cleveland winning his home state’s decisive 36 electors by only 1,047 votes out of 1.17 million cast. Could we be headed for another rhyme on Nov. 8?