Donald Trump Is Not a Twenty-First Century Andrew Jackson

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tags: Andrew Jackson, Trump



Mark R. Cheathem is Professor of History at Cumberland University. His books include the award-winning Andrew Jackson, Southerner (2013) and Andrew Jackson and the Rise of the Democrats (2015). He is the project director of the Papers of Martin Van Buren at Cumberland University.

During the recent presidential campaign, numerous pundits and even some scholars drew comparisons between Republican candidate Donald Trump’s unorthodox campaign and those of Andrew Jackson in 1824 and 1828. For example, Politico’s Andrew Saunders argued that any Republican attempt to deny Trump the nomination threatened to strengthen him for a 2020 presidential run, much like Jackson successfully sought revenge in 1828 for the “stolen” election of 1824.[1] Psychologist Dan P. McAdams observed about the two candidates, “Nearly two centuries ago, President Andrew Jackson displayed many of the same psychological characteristics we see in Donald Trump—the extroversion and social dominance, the volatile temper, the shades of narcissism, the populist authoritarian appeal.”[2]

The gist of these many comparisons was that, like Jackson, Trump was a wealthy candidate using populist rhetoric to tap into an American voting populace angry with politics-as-usual. The standard argument was that the people were overthrowing “the Establishment” in order to express their will about how to make American great again.

Since the election results were announced in early November, the Trump-Jackson comparisons have continued, with Trump’s inner circle embracing them to further the argument that their candidate and Jackson were populist leaders motivated solely by their desire to help the American people. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, for example, compared Trump’s November victory to that of Jackson in 1828. “This is the people beating the establishment,” he told MSNBC host Chris Matthews. “And that’s how [Donald Trump] posited right from the beginning, the people are rising up against a government they find to be dysfunctional.”[3] Trump strategist Stephen Bannon, meanwhile, promised, “Like [Andrew] Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.”[4]

Certainly, Trump and Jackson share some similarities. As National Public Radio’s Steve Inskeep noted, both men looked to disrupt the traditional political system by styling themselves outsiders. Conspiracy thinking also undergirded both men’s mind-sets and affected their politics. Trump spent years pursuing the “truth” regarding Barack Obama’s birth certificate, while Jackson used his belief that the 1824 election had been stolen from him to propel his campaign four years later. Both Jackson and Trump understood the importance of media as well. Old Hickory used newspapers to his advantage, and no one can question Trump’s belief that his message is best spread via the more modern media platform of Twitter.[5]

Both Jackson and Trump also ran on campaigns to weed out corruption in government. On this count, the comparison produces mixed results. While Trump has yet to take office, early indications are that his promise to “drain the swamp” of Washington corruption has fallen by the wayside.[6] He has refused to divest himself of his business dealings to avoid the conflicts of interest that come with the presidency. His children, who will oversee operation of Trump’s businesses while he is running the country, are close advisers. Many of his cabinet appointees are billionaires like Trump and, also like Trump, have ties to various companies and nations that present conflicts of interest. His request for the names of Department of Energy workers who support climate change also smacks of an administration that might seek political loyalty over experience and expertise.[7] It remains to be seen if Trump’s promises to root out government corruption were genuine or simply pandering to anti-establishment sentiment among voters. ...




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