HISTORICAL MODELS-Why Does Andrew Jackson’s 250th birthday this week matter? What does his history of accomplishment tell us about the voids of our current president who admires him so much? It’s a good time to remember what an important political figure our seventh President was, and how far the 45th President needs to go to equal his idol.
What can Donald Trump learn from Andrew Jackson, who was born 250 years ago on March 15, 1767? It will be a steep learning curve for Trump, who hung Jackson’s portrait on the Oval Office wall the day he took over and uses it as a photo-op backdrop as often as possible.
Attempting to become Jackson-like, Donald Trump styles himself as the leader of a “populist” movement he energized with his “America First!” and “Make America Great Again!” slogans as he played on nativist sentiments. Such leanings are an identifying hallmark of Andrew Jackson, who shifted political power from the established elites to the ordinary voters, and played a leading role in granting all white males the right to vote, not just white male property owners. This was part of Jackson’s program of “Jacksonian Democracy” that morphed into the creation of the Democratic Party that, in turn, replaced Thomas Jefferson’s agrarian-based Democratic-Republican Party, changing American political history forever.
This political advance led to greater democracy for the common man and better representation of poor citizens in the United States. With it, Jackson achieved inclusion. So far, Trump has practiced exclusion and his separatism and division are splitting the country. His campaign call to arms emasculated the Republican establishment and terminated the Bush and Clinton political dynasties.
Jackson started out against the odds. Trump may also want to try to run the table and see what he can create. It will be worth watching. Jackson, like Trump, was not an Establishment political figure – “Old Hickory” was hardly a name the Boston Brahmins and Philadelphia lawyers, one generation removed from the Founding Fathers, would use to address a peer. Like Jackson, Trump is not an Establishment insider.
Trump was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Not so Jackson who, by adolescence, was an orphan on the Indian-dominated frontier: his father died before he was born, and his mother when he was twelve. He inherited no legacy or fortune. His apprenticeship was “life,” and he was able to parlay that into becoming a frontier lawyer, judge, congressman, senator, heroic general (famously known as “the Hero of New Orleans” in the War of 1812,) and twice a presidential candidate – winning on his second try in 1828, then serving two terms.
Trump came to the White House partially from a background as a television reality show host where, for fourteen years, he presided weekly over a low-brow, unscripted entertainment program that specialized in humiliating contestants. As President, he continues to be executive producer of that show. Daily Variety reported that for the first time ever “a sitting president will be on the payroll of a current TV show.” Trump also spent years building up and branding himself and the property development business he inherited from his father. More recently, he has been creating his Trump-branded chain of country clubs and golf courses.
Getting elected was a challenge for both presidents as each was up against the Establishment. Jackson’s opponent in the 1824 election was John Quincy Adams, the son of the second president, who won the election and became the sixth President of the United States. Thus began the concept of political dynasties in America that would come to include the families of Roosevelt, Kennedy, Bush, and Clinton, dynasties that have occupied center-stage in modern Presidential history. Trump had his own equally worthy Establishment adversary in the Clinton-Obama coalition.
One trait that Trump and Jackson share is a doubt about their fitness for office. Jackson biographer Jon Meacham recounts some of the concerns his contemporaries had, concerns that “a man of Jackson’s temperament might turn the Republic into a dictatorship...unqualified for the difficult and complicated business...a wild-eyed backwoodsman brandishing a whip and a pistol.” However, Jackson turned out to be a man of real accomplishment. Trump’s immediate predecessor, who held the job for eight years, has referred to Trump as “unfit to serve as president...he keeps on proving it."
Jackson overcame many doubts about him, drawing on his substantial experience as a military officer, a jurist, and a legislator. Trump’s experience coming into office is much more limited. If he’s the student of history he claims to be, and admires Andrew Jackson the way he demonstrates, he may be able to learn on how to be the president on the job.
Jackson held two terms of office. His likeness was engraved onto the twenty-dollar bill in 1928 -- the 100th anniversary of his election as President.
Generations from now, will a future President think that Trump’s picture is worth hanging on the Oval Office wall or being engraved onto currency? Will Trump, the student of history, make the kind of history that is worth commemorating?
(Tim Deegan is a long-time resident and community leader in the Miracle Mile, who has served as board chair at the Mid City West Community Council and on the board of the Miracle Mile Civic Coalition. Tim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.