Indiana-hating ‘President’ Donald Trump is going to visit the grave of Indian-hating President Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans and seventh President of the United States. It is the 250th anniversary of Jackson’s birth.
As an analysis in The Washington Post explains,
Jackson was a rabble-rousing egalitarian, a war hero, an early American nationalist and ruthless persecutor of indigenous peoples. His legacy matters a great deal to Trump — or, we should say, to a coterie of his close advisers, who styled Trump’s unlikely rise in the vein of Jackson’s populist insurgency. “Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” said Stephen K. Bannon, now the White House’s chief strategist, in an interview last November.
Jackson’s election in 1828 heralded the end of the aristocratic phase of the American presidency and heralded the advent of the rule of the “common man.”
It is easy enough to see the appeal of a fake populist like Donald Trump, who hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, even though Jackson was a Democrat at a time when America’s political parties were still forming.
Jackson, like Trump, was rich. As Mary Jordan wrote in The Washington Post in January,
“Jackson’s mansion includes, according to a tour guide in 19th Century dress, the drawing room ‘where Jackson ushered guests in to brag about himself.’”
Yes. It’s easy to see the appeal.
Ironically, Jackson favored elimination of the Electoral College because it got in the way of simple democracy while Donald Trump is president only thanks to the Electoral College, having lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
In his veto message regarding the Bank of the United States, Jackson said, almost as though imagining the future Donald Trump,
“It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. Distinctions in society will always exist under every just government.”
Jackson also said, and this was a chord struck as well by Trump in 2016,
“[T]he humble members of society — the farmers, mechanics, and laborers — who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their government.”
Trump the false populist sold the idea to his base that he would be the champion of those humble members of society, right before he created the richest collection of white men he could find to form his cabinet. right before he proposed making those rich men richer at the expense of those humble members of society.
Donald Trump has a fixation for Jackson that is as false as Jackson himself. When Ishaan Tharoor asks in the Post,
“What does it mean, though, to have a Jacksonian president in the 21st century? There has been a lot of commentary on the Trump-Jackson analogy, with some historians deeply opposed to the parallel.”
We could argue that Jackson himself was not “a Jacksonian president.” So said one of his most ardent supporters in the 1830s. David Crockett.
Frontiersman David Crockett, congressman from Tennessee and future defender of the Alamo, was a Jackson man. He said so on every occasion the question came up. But he noticed something about Jackson as time went on, and that was that Jackson had ceased to be:
“I thought with him, as he thought before he was President: he has altered his opinion – I have not changed mine. I have not left the principles which led me to support General Jackson: he has left them and me.”
According to Crockett, Jackson had become a Van Buren man:
“I am yet a Jackson man in principles, but not in name. I shall insist upon it that I am still a Jackson man, but General Jackson is not; he has become a Van Buren man.”
Crockett came to fear Jackson might exercise dictatorial power by starting a foreign war, the same fear many today have of Donald Trump.
While Jackson looked to removing friendly Indian tribes to free their land for White settlement, Crockett opposed this act, which led to the infamous Trail of Tears.
He felt sympathy for the poor and oppressed, be they White or Indian. For Crockett, Martin Van Buren was what Steve Bannon is today, the evil genius behind the president.
As historian William C. Davis writes (Three Roads to the Alamo, 1999),
“When the Cherokee mounted a challenge to the Indian Bill in the Supreme Court, Jackson forces got up a bill to repeal part of the 1789 Judiciary Act so that the Court would not actually sit on the matter. Such tampering with the basic law of the land, and the balance of power, incensed Crockett.”
According to Crockett,
“This is what we call going the whole hogg to nullify the whole powar of the Supreme Court of the united states. I do believe it is a political manuver of this adminestration which will destroy the whole powar of the genl government.”
When he ran afoul of Jackson’s supporters, his tale began to sound a lot like that of Trump critics today, lamenting that he was “hunted down like a wild varment.”
“The truth is the Jackson worshippers became desperate and had to resort to any and everything.”
It might be too much to say that Trump has become a Bannon man, but it is also perhaps not entirely false. But Trump is no more who he says he is than Jackson is in Republican myth.
And Trump is at least a great a threat to the Supreme Court as David Crockett imagined Jackson to be, and no less a threat to the “whole power of the general government” that Trump’s own Van Buren, Steve Bannon, has vowed to destroy.