“Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.” Edmund Burke’s familiar maxim is nowhere more clearly seen than in the current Presidential primary season in the United States. I posted NPR’s Steve Inskeep’s New York Times article Donald Trump’s Secret? Channeling Andrew Jackson yesterday but I think it is so important that I’d like to say a few more things about it in this blog.
Many of us grew up thinking of Jackson, “Old Hickory” as he was known, as some kind of American hero. He did indeed win the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812, but did so with many acts of brutality including putting his own soldiers to death for disobedience. He parlayed his military career into a political career and was elected President.
According to Inskeep’s article, “Jackson had a captivating style, and not just because of his wild hair. He did what he wanted and demanded respect…Like Mr. Trump, Jackson made his fortune in real estate. He bought and sold vast tracts of Southern land…(and)…if the land was owned by Indians, Jackson bullied or bribed them into selling it cheap.”
“And again, like Mr. Trump…Jackson did not worry about consistency. Having joined the nation’s wealthy elite, he ran for president as an opponent of wealthy elites. He defended liberty while operating a personal empire of cotton plantations using hundreds of enslaved black laborers.”
“…Jackson…enforced a certain idea of America — an America for white people. Jackson was personally cordial to people of other races, but their rights did not concern him. When white Southerners grew tired of Indian nations in their midst, Jackson forced them into internal exile in the West. He could have defended this policy using a Trump phrase: ‘We either have a country or we don’t.'”
Like Andrew Jackson, Donald Trump has somehow struck a certain populist chord in a segment of the American electorate. Inskeep describes them as concentrated in the so-called Appalachian states “from Mississippi and Alabama all the way to western Pennsylvania and New York.” My hometown of Greenville, South Carolina is located in one of the most pro-Trump parts of the country.
Hard to believe that the Southerners I grew up with could ever vote for a brash and profane, New York billionaire. But, as the comparison with Andrew Jackson demonstrates, similar things have happened before. I do not believe for one minute that it is impossible for Trump to secure the Republican nomination and to be elected President of these United States.
It would be a tragedy. But, unless we learn our history…we may indeed be doomed to repeat it.
And “doom” is not too strong a word.