9 ways Donald Trump is more like Andrew Jackson
American populism is nothing new. One of our first populist presidential candidates, and later president, was Andrew Jackson. Like Donald Trump, Jackson ignored contemporary standards for politicking. Far from disqualifying either one of them, the shift appealed to a growing mass of disaffected voters. Let’s look at nine ways there is nothing new under the sun, nine ways Trump can be characterized as a latter day Jackson.
1. Exploits a sea change in populist sentiment.
Andrew Jackson’s political popularity rose on a wave of popular nationalism. The young nation recently won the War of 1812, thanks to General Jackson—in the popular imagination. As the voting franchise expanded to include non-propertied white men, they sought a candidate who looked and sounded much like them. General Jackson, or “Old Hickory,” fit the bill.
Donald Trump, or “The Donald,” appeals primarily to this same demographic. Like Old Hickory, he speaks their language, using coarse language to connect with those feeling left out by Washington. Both could be characterized as a demagogue, appealing to popular dissent to serve the common citizen against privileged elites in Washington. Both presented themselves as just the man to get things done.
2. Appeals to popular dissent as a Washington outsider.
Andrew Jackson staked out his political rise in the frontier town of Nashville. Tennessee was as far from Washington a politician could get in those days. After passing the bar in 1787, Jackson had to earn his reputation, since he did not come from a well-connected family. He learned merit could upend elitism, and this appealed to the increasing number of nonpropertied voters who recently received suffrage.
Both denounced the elites of their day, especially those holding political power. “They’re crooked. They’re stupid. They don’t know what they’re doing,” Trump asserted. In other words, too worried about political correctness while squeezing the middle class and missing the art of the deal.
3. Opposes elites and their banker backers as a populist leader.
Jackson staked his political career in killing the elite controlled banking system. This meant vetoing the bill to recharter the 2nd Bank of the United States, or the “monster bank.” He railed against its lack of public accountability, and distrusted as undemocratic its increasing investments into a new entity called corporations.
The first national bank, America’s first experiment with central currency, was chartered from 1791 to 1811. On the eve of war, the 2nd bank came into being. Jackson opposed the bank on grounds it violated the social equality principle in the U.S. Constitution. The bulk of the money came from a few wealthy Americans and some Europeans, convincing Jackson and his supporters that he bank threatened U.S. sovereignty. Those overseeing public currency appeared out of touch with the actual monetary needs of everyday Americans.
With Hillary beholden to Wall Street, Trump appeals to the growing resentment against Wall Street. Since 1913, the privately run Federal Reserve serves as our national bank and currency generator, not the federal government. Its fractional reserve debt-based currency leaves common Americans vulnerable to these elites’ monetary policies. Trump speaks to this anger at the banking system’s control of the money supply, with its volatile boom and bust cycles. As Jackson stood against the national bank in 1832, we can see Trump taking the banking elites to task for their apparent alienation from Main Street Americans.
4. Unifies supporters around a class of detested people.
“The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leader,” Goering declared in 1946, by rallying them around a shared threat. If a few Indians resisted further encroachment upon their homelands, Jackson could fan the flames of fear that all Indians must be “violent savages.” Trump appears to be fanning a similar fear of all Muslims as suspected terrorists, and Mexicans as likely illegal immigrants.
There is nothing like a common enemy to unify a people in crisis. For Jackson’s supporters, Indians (or at least hostile Indians) fit the bill. For Trump’s supporters, Muslims (or at least radical Muslims) fit that role. From building a huge wall to keep Mexicans out to banning all Muslims from entering the country, Trump evokes comparisons to other historic xenophobes.
5. Compared to history’s most loathed leader by opponents.
Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric reminds many, including Republican establishment leaders, of that most loathed xenophobe leader in history. Foreigners in our midst are to blame for our problems, both asserted to adoring fans, and removing them will help make our country great again. Removal of an ethnic minority is exactly what Jackson engineered, creating the template for the Holocaust.
However, Old Hickory was denounced as an American Napoleon Bonaparte. Early 19th Century Americans feared their young republic could also turn easily to a monarchial military chieftain by a populist mob. Jackson asserted presidential power like never before, fearfully reminding his opponents of Napoleon.
“King Andrew,” as his political foes branded him, took on the Washington establishment to lead “the people” against Washington’s “corrupted” establishment elites. For these elites, democracy is best contained. Even if manufacturing the consent of the governed through paid influence of politicians and media. Jackson’s imperial presidency emerged precisely to defy such usurpation of the people. Trump’s popularity appears to follow a similar wave. He can’t be bought—in the popular imagination.
6. Runs against political dynasty.
Before the former First Lady became the first woman presidential candidate to lead a party’s ticket, and long before Bush Sr. begat “W,” John “Q” Adams was the first son of a previously sitting president to be elected to that office. The American political dynasty was born. Old Hickory stood as its first challenger.
Like Hillary Clinton, John Q. Adams previously served as our Secretary of State and as a U.S. Senator. And like Hillary, the younger Adams built an impressive résumé. But at a time when being closer to the inner workings of government implied corruption. Sound familiar?
When the House of Representatives mediated the close election of 1824, they favored the establishment candidate over the populist candidate. Jackson initially lost, despite winning the most electoral and popular votes. A “corrupt bargain” is what Jackson called it, when Speaker Clay became Adam’s Secretary of State. If Hillary wins under similar circumstances, Trump will likely dub her “Corrupted Hillary.” Mark my words, it’ll be huge!
7. Uses controversial past to own political advantage.
Against President Monroe’s wishes, Jackson invaded Spanish Florida to war against the Seminoles. Instead of leading to a costly war with Spain, Jackson’s violation of Spanish sovereignty led to Spain transferring Florida to the United States in 1818.
In 1828 the Cincinnati Gazette raised questions about the dubious circumstances around Jackson’s 1794 marriage to his yet-to-be-divorced wife: “Ought a convicted adulteress and her paramour husband be placed in the highest offices of this free and Christian land?” Jacksons’ opponent Adams used it as a wedge issue, but to little avail.
Jump to 2016, and we see Trump gaining support among evangelical voters with a similarly tainted history. Trump uses explicit language about his paramour exploits, but attempts by his detractors to leverage this against him typically trigger his supporters to circle the wagons around him.
Jackson shocked polite society by frequently engaging in duels. He once killed a man in a duel to defend his wife’s honor. Despite being denounced as a slave-trading, gambling, brawling murderer, Jackson wins the Presidency in 1828. Despite Trump University being little more than a diploma mill, and similar questionable enterprises touted by mainstream media, would it be surprising if Trump wins the Presidency in 2016?
8. Dominates media attention like never before.
Each masterminded the latest media technology. Trump reaches his audience via Twitter, quickly disseminating his attention grabbing soundbites. Jackson reached his audience via lithographs, visually displaying his war hero status. Both pioneered visual imagery in ways that caught their opponents off guard. Both changed the ground rules of running for office, appealing directly to the masses.
Trump taps into popular disillusionment with corporate run media much as Jackson took on the mainstream press in his day. Henry Clay leaked to the press Jackson’s infidelity with his wife Rachel, who was married to another man when Jackson first courted her. The more the “corrupted” media went after Jackson, as Trump today, the more appeal he gained in the eyes of those who loathed the establishment for excluding them from party politics for so long. The more the mainstream media pushed against Trump, as they did Jackson, the more his followers identified with his stance against loathed elites.
9. Crashes the party.
Jackson first ran during the “Era of Good Feelings” when the U.S. didn’t have a strong two-party system. The Federalist party had faded by then, leaving only the Democrat-Republican party of Jefferson. Expanding the vote to include non-propertied white men raised expectations the old guard failed to meet.
Jackson’s Democrat party emerged to represent the unheard of rural white voters of meager means, who felt left out by Washington’s inner circle or East Coast “moneyed interests.” Now another party has taken that mantle. But as both parties drifted toward the center in recent years, the unheard are screaming. Echoing Jackson, Trump seeks to carry the unheard to victory by rebranding, yet again, the Republican Party. Or not.
History repeating itself
Jacksonian democracy emerged amidst the political climate of the so-called “Era of Good Feelings.” The Federalist Party collapsed, leaving only the Democratic-Republican Party of Jefferson. Less political contention favored the status quo at the expense of those far from Washington. Political elites simply offered newly franchised voters with disappointing options. Sound familiar?
In this era of instant information with endless opportunities, but held down by smothering debt owed primarily to one-percenters, today’s voters loath elites of all stripes more than each other. The familiar Left-Right political divide dissolves into an emergent divide between an elite-favoring establishment and a mostly anti-elite backlash that seeks systemic change--with support from across the political divide. Trump and Sanders have tapped into this sentiment in the US, and Brexit in the UK with support from both the Right and the Left. But, yes, it's a revolutionary movement unfolding dynamically around the world. Politicians ignore this sea change at their own risk. Upgrading to this new political wave means bracing for Jackson 2.0.
I am neither for nor am I against Donald Trump for U.S. President. I am transpolitical, and therefore opposed to any political behavior that lacks transparency and accountability to actual need outcomes. In fact, I’m working on a book from this transpolitical perspective, called Politics Defused, Moving Beyond Political Polarization, and a complementary eCourse. This offers a glimpse of that out-of-body-politic perspective.