Trump wants to be Andrew Jackson
He’s Actually James Buchanan
Donald Trump likes to compare himself to Andrew Jackson. Once again, for those who may have dozed off during 11th grade United States History class, Jackson (“Old Hickory”) is remembered for many things. He was the first Democrat (not a Democratic-Republican, as Jefferson, Madison, Monroe — the “Virginia Dynasty” —- were) elected President and promoted an expansion of the franchise (right to vote). He was famous as the “Hero of New Orleans,” a battle that was fought after the war was actually over (news traveled slowly in those days) but gave Jackson the aura of having won the War of 1812 (it was, at best, a draw against Great Britain). He is also remembered for eliminating the Bank of the United States (he won that fight and plunged the country into depression under his successor, Martin Van Buren). Always promoting himself as the Defender of the Common Man, Jackson was a slave owner responsible for The Trail of Tears, moving thousands of Native Americans from their Georgia homeland, exiling them to Oklahoma in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling (Worcester v. Georgia)! Jackson is also remembered for suppressing South Carolina’s secession from the Union. South Carolina was protesting the (Northern) “Tariff of Abominations.” Jackson actually threatened to string up his Vice President, John Calhoun, a South Carolinian, if the state didn’t “stand down.” Calhoun had promulgated a theory that individual states could nullify Federal laws they did not agree with. While Jackson was a populist and loathed the Northern Elites (and abolitionists) he was also a nationalist —and wouldn’t hear of Calhoun’s nullification plan. (Calhoun subsequently resigned as VP)
Trump believes he’s “tough” like Jackson (the Battle of New Orleans) and also sees himself as a “champion of the common man” against the Northern (and West Coast) Elites. And, of course, Trump sees himself as the ultimate Nationalist, like Jackson, and, rather than moving Native America’s across a Trail of Tears, Trump want to seal off the borders of the U.S. while banning Muslims and other “aliens.” There is a huge portrait of Jackson hanging in the Oval Office. For all his desire to be our “Hickory” (DJT would never accept a moniker that included “Old”), Trump has fallen far short of his hero —and our current crisis has revealed that he is, in fact, far more like James Buchanan than any other President.
Again, for those who might not have read the chapter on the Buchanan Administration (1857-1861) you probably don’t recall the details about our only bachelor President’s term in office. Upon examination, the Buchanan parallels to Trump’s maladministration are striking. If you know your U.S. History chronology the dates of Buchanan’s Administration tells part of his story. 1857 to 1861 were the immediate ante-bellum years, the last four years before the Civil War began. And here is where the Trump/Buchanan parallel emerges. In both cases, faced with a national crisis the President wilted, failing to take action that may have mitigated, if not prevented, the impending disaster.
In Buchanan’s case, he assembled a Cabinet comprised of “men who would agree with his views. “ (Wikipedia) Of the seven Cabinet members four were Southerners and three were “doughfaces” (Northerners sympathetic to slave-owners). Buchanan was also aware of an impending Supreme Court decision (Dred Scott) which favored the South and declared that African-Americans could never be considered citizens of the United States. In addition to that, Buchanan supported the admission of Kansas to the Union as a “slave” state---thereby exacerbating the tensions between the North and the South. Combine that with Buchanan’s support of the Democratic platform of 1856 which supported a strong Fugitive Slave Law (requiring runaway slaves be returned to their “owners” or incur Federal legal penalties). You can see that this President, who hailed from Pennsylvania, was a strong supporter of the Slave-owning Class (the richest people in the society). Buchanan’s greatest failing, though, was his inaction after the Election of 1860.
Buchanan had campaigned on a promise of being a one-term President, so he did not run for re-election in 1860. In 1856, when he was elected, he was the beneficiary of a 3-way race, with the newly formed Republican Party running John Fremont and the Know-Nothing (nativist) Party promoting former President Millard Fillmore. This left a clear path for the Democrat, Buchanan. In 1860, reflecting the nation’s stark divisions (sound familiar?), the Republicans nominated Abraham Lincoln of Illinois. He ran against a Northern Democrat (Stephen Douglas from Illinois), a Southern Democrat (John Breckinridge of Kentucky) and a Constitutional Unionist (John Bell of Tennessee). Given the divided field, Lincoln won and, as a result, seven Southern states seceded from the Union! (Presidential inaugurations weren’t conducted until March 4th for the first 148 years of the Republic, meaning there was a 4-month “lame duck” period before the transition of power). And here’s where we see the strongest parallel between James Buchanan and Donald Trump.
Between December 1860 and Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4, 1861 seven states declared they were no longer part of the United States of America! In rapid succession, South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas left the Union. James Buchanan was still the President of the United States. Aside from sending reinforcements to the Army garrison on the island of Fort Sumter, South Carolina, Buchanan did nothing in the face of a National Crisis. He saw the nation coming apart at the seams and simply sat back and watched it happen.
It is March 25, 2020 and the World Health Organization has announced that the United States appears to now be the epicenter of this worldwide coronavirus pandemic. Despite invoking the Defense Production Act six (6) days ago Trump has not required any industries convert their businesses to meet the increasing demand for ventilators, PPE, cotton swabs, etc. Because of Trump’s inaction early on in this crisis (like Buchanan’s in 1860-61) --- indeed, because of his flagrant denial of the impending crisis --- we are now facing a situation where thousands (and potentially millions) will die. He has declared himself a “Wartime President” but continues to act as he has through his first three years in office: pedaling “alternative facts,” trusting his “gut” over science & experts, and only seeing things in terms of the Stock Market and dollars and cents. Andy Borowitz, the New Yorker’s humor writer, composed a piece headlining Trump Results are Negative on Empathy Test. As a malignant narcissist, Trump actually promoted a vision of “packed churches” on Easter Sunday (April 12th). Believing his re-election chances are wedded to the Dow Jones Industrials, Trump’s interest in resuscitating our economy supersedes his ability to listen to medical experts. Like Buchanan, he simply hopes the crisis will go away (we hear about his “feelings” but little about facts).
If Trump doesn’t begin listening to Dr. Fauci and other experts we may be headed for not only a nationwide health disaster of unimaginable proportions but also an economic collapse as bad as (if not worse than) the Great Depression. I’m sure there are people who believe that last sentence sounds like “Chicken Little” but our future, currently, is in the hands of our local Governors and the Congress of the United States. We have an Executive who pedals magical thinking at daily “update” press briefings (which have, basically, replaced his frothing rallies) and who, like James Buchanan, is sitting in the stands when he should be in the huddle leading his team.
Stay home. Wash your hands. Socially distance yourself and hope for the best while preparing for the worst.