The America of Andrew Jackson was a country that professed a love of democracy but was willing to live with inequality, that aimed for social justice but was prone to racism and intolerance, that believed itself one nation but was narrowly divided and fought close elections, and that occasionally acted arrogantly toward other countries while craving respect from them at the same time."
With the election of Donald Trump as president, I thought it was time to review another era in American history, one when the first great populist was elected president. Consider it reading history to shed a light on our own inconceivable situation; looking to history to offer hope that our black cloud might have a silver lining.
After the jump, my review.
The first thing I learned reading John Meacham's biography of Andrew Jackson is that Donald Trump is no Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a man of the people, rising from humble beginnings. He was a lawyer, a US attorney, a judge, a Congressman, Senator, a major general and war hero. In short, he had both the experience and the popularity to be president. Donald Trump has neither. He's a fluke of the Electoral College.
Still, the Jackson era bears similarities to our own. The details are different, but the issues of government, of race, of the economy, should be familiar to us today. Andrew Jackson's record dealing with the issues of his day contains achievements that shine in hindsight and sins that are a permanent shame on American history. Jackson's greatest achievement was his commitment to Union, staring down South Carolina and its threat of Nullification that would have destroyed the Union. His greatest shame was his expelling of Native Americans from the South. In between was his fight with the Bank of the United States. Jackson sided with the slaveholding interests against the commercial interests. He won, but it's debatable to this day how much national economic expansion and growth were impacted. Americans today should be informed of this history, but how to apply the lessons of Jackson's day to the America of today is a complicated question without obvious answers.
John Meacham won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. "American Lion" is a readable, non-biased look back at this hugely complicated American president. Finishing it, I don't see any of the good of Andrew Jackson in Donald Trump, and more than a little of the bad. It's said that history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes. Time will tell what form and meter the Trump presidential stanza will take. Right now, I'm not hopeful that it will all work out in the end.