Asheville Daily Planet, July 2019
A portrait hovers over Donald Trump’s desk in the Oval Office ̶̶ a man with a Mona Lisa smirk and froofy hairdo that’s first cousin to Trump’s. We know him as Andrew Jackson from the twenty-dollar bill.
Why would Trump choose Jackson, we wonder? Wouldn’t Jackson remind Trump daily of his own lack of manliness? Jackson was a military hero, a great leader of men. Trump pleaded bone spurs. Jackson fought 103 duels and ultimately died of lead poisoning from bullets in his body. Trump’s only mano-a-mano was a staged body slam of Vince McMahon.
But then maybe Trump looks up to Jackson for the courage to tweet one more time against Nancy Pelosi.
Actually, though, the two men reach over the years to be similar. Now, as you read, imagine a tinkling bell every time their characters converge.
For example, Jackson may well be half-smiling on Trump and his view of the presidency.
Our Founding Fathers, the guys who thought up the Constitution, thought the Legislative Branch of government was where power was supposed to reside. We’re a representative democracy, after all. The president’s assignment, in their plan, was to execute the laws passed by Congress.
And sure enough, that’s how the first six presidents, all Founders and the son of a Founder, did their jobs. (And I think that’s the arrangement they taught in my elementary civics class.)
President Number Seven was Jackson ̶ not a Founding Father and a man accustomed to being obeyed by his soldiers and his slaves. Congress ̶ and the Constitution ̶̶ were annoyances.
Many Americans at the time liked this command-and-follow leadership style, so much so that Congress was cowed into doing his will. When Jackson proposed the Indian Removal Act right after he took office, Congress passed it over howls from good people, especially missionaries. Congressman Davy Crockett was an opposition leader in the House of Representatives. Then when the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee could not be removed from their lands, Jackson ignored them and ultimately sent troops to remove them to the West.
Jackson didn’t forgive. Once an enemy, always an enemy. John C. Calhoun was forever on his list after Calhoun, then Secretary of War, recommended censure of Jackson for his unauthorized capture of Spanish Pensacola in 1818. After he became president, he told Calhoun: “If you secede from my nation, I will secede your head from the rest of your body.”
If Trump knew history, he’d pat Jackson’s portrait on the shoulder every morning out of admiration. The general’s incredible land grabs after the War of 1812 make Trump real estate deals look downright righteous. (Google Politico Magazine’s two-part article, “How Jackson made a killing in real estate.”)
Displacing Indians from the Tennessee River valley resulted in an enormous expansion of cotton land ̶ which, in turn, increased demand for slaves. It’s been said that Jackson was all for “the common white man.”
Jackson thought from his gut. For example, the Bank of the United States, a majority-private bank where the government deposited its money, and the bank, in turn, distributed money to state and local banks and somewhat regulated them. Jackson felt it served the interests of rich Easterners ̶ and he hated rich Easterners. Even though Congress had voted to renew the bank’s charter, and the Supreme Court had ruled that the bank was constitutional, Jackson slowed government deposits and ultimately vetoed the bank’s charter renewal. Government money went to “pet banks” in the states.
The result was chaos on the frontier. Notes issued by many banks were worthless. Jackson responded with a “circular” that required purchases of federal land be in gold and silver. He was out of office before the Panic of 1837 hit, a depression that lasted into the mid-1840s. Jackson’s ignorance of economic cause-and-effect devastated the country.
Our current president has economic ignorance in spades ̶ about trade, tariffs, tax breaks, role of the Federal Reserve, use of sanctions, multinational trade agreements.
It took seven years, but America survived Jackson’s economic policies. Now we hold our collective breath over Trump’s. Maybe we’d be wise to take out Panic insurance now.