21st Century Jackson?
(I don’t think so)
Yesterday was the anniversary of Andrew Jackson’s birthday. The 7th President of the United States was born 250 years ago yesterday and the current President visited Jackson’s homestead, The Hermitage, to commemorate the day. Trump, of course, has a portrait of Jackson hanging in the Oval Office and “Steve Bannon, has argued that (Trump) is a neo-Jackson — a transformative populist figure. “ (Jon Meachem, The Tennessean, March 15th) Trump seems to enjoy the parallel. Given his lack of knowledge about U.S. history, that’s not surprising.
Pulitzer Prize winning Jackson biographer Jon Meachem, a native of Chattanooga, wrote an open letter to Trump in yesterday’s Tennessean, the principal daily newspaper in Nashville. In it he says, “My hope is that you will note not only the surface similarities you share with the seventh president (the big personality, the fierce pride, the rhetorical antagonism toward political, economic and cultural elites) but that you will engage Jackson’s complexity rather than simply embrace his caricature.” (emphasis, mine) These are words that will fall on deaf ears, of course, as Trump is a caricature of Jackson. He is imitating the worst aspects of Jackson without embracing Meachem’s “complexity” (which I don’t necessarily agree with, btw).
The infamous travel ban is Trump’s version of Jackson’s brutal Indian Removal Act --- an Act that was implemented in defiance of the Supreme Court! Jackson, upon hearing that Chief Justice John Marshall had ruled against his removing the Cherokee by way of the “Trail of Tears,” supposedly said, "John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it." This blatant disregard to the rule of law should have been an impeachable offense, of course, but the 1830’s Democratic majority in Congress was not going to challenge their President. Our concern, of course, should be that Trump might believe he, too, has the power to defy a court order. The Executive Order banning immigrants from six predominantly Muslim nations is Trump’s equivalent to Jackson’s Indian Removal and, like Jackson, Federal Court’s have ruled against him. Trump has demonstrated a disdain for the judicial branch (unless it agrees with him) and his reaction to yesterday’s second judicial slap-down will be interesting to watch. Will he mimic Jackson and try to defy the court?
Another notable battle of Jackson’s, of course, was with the National Bank. In keeping with the Bannon edict to “deconstruct the administrative state,” the current battle over the ACA (Obamacare) is quite similar to what transpired in the Jackson administration, with similar back-stories. The Second Bank of the United States was seen as a tool of the Northeastern elite, privileging a certain population (the northern, urban, educated “elite” – sound familiar?) over another (the less educated, southern, rural working class). While the “elite” was open to “reforming” the National Bank, Jackson, when faced with the re-chartering legislation, vetoed the Bank, promoting the interests of States banks and “the common man.” In the short run, Jackson served his base and left office as an extremely popular President. His successor, Martin Van Buren, suffered the consequences of Jackson’s actions as the economy bottomed out and America suffered “the Panic of 1837,” a recession that was only reversed by the Mexican War in the mid-1840’s! It may well be worth repeating the famous George Santayana quote here: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Meachem notes: Jackson’s “populism was not borrowed or affected but real and deeply felt,” something we definitely do not see in Trump, “the blue-collar billionaire” (talk about an oxymoron). Similarly, the Pulitzer Prize winner says, “He (Jackson) was also a man who valued experience in governmental and military affairs.” Trump, the consummate political amateur and artful draft dodger (who said “I know more about ISIS than the generals do”) shows a staggering ignorance regarding the Constitution, United States history, and the mechanics of governing. The current fights over the travel ban and “repeal and replace” Obamacare make it clear that Donald Trump may think he is Andrew Jackson in spirit but he is far more Andrew Johnson in reality.