Commentary: Media goes overboard comparing Trump to Jackson

Richard Hoover

The hidden side of  historical figures is often illumined by examining both the symbols that surrounded them and the earlier historical figures who inspired them. Francis I chose for his emblem the mythologically indestructible salamander — not inappropriate for a king who, deep in the Italian Wars, was simultaneously challenged to settle Protestant hash at home.

Queen Elizabeth I had dresses embroidered with eyes and ears, no doubt symbols of her intent to keep close tabs to better settle Catholic hash. Louis XIV chose representations of the sun to intimidate both unruly nobles and foreign rivals. Napoleon, who never rested, and certainly would sting, chose the busy bee.  And Gen. Pershing’s idolization of Ulysses S. Grant surely explained the irreversible and costly determination with which “Black Jack” conducted the bloody Meuse-Argonne campaign of 1918.

Now, what about Donald Trump? Judging from the portrait (by Ralph E. W. Earl) and the equestrian bronze sculpture moved into the Oval Office, our president is fairly under the spell of a predecessor – Gen. Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States. That these two works of art provide constant photographic backdrop both for sit-down meetings and standing press events has led writers to conjure up a Jacksonian side to the hidden Trump.  Fair enough. The most absurd  conclusions, however,  are drawn: Jackson’s support of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, not to mention his ownership of slaves, offer proof of Trump’s racial prejudice.  Similarly, Jackson’s anger and violent behaviors  also become attached to Trump’s character. And with the affair over Peggy O’Neal Eaton, the Secretary of War’s wife whose alleged sexual improprieties turned Jackson’s administration upside down, Trump somehow emerges an anti-feminist. Further, Jackson and, therefore, Trump are turned into hypocritical populists because great wealth prevents anyone from championing the cause of the working class, whether then or now. Of course the logic doesn’t hold water. Jackson’s slave holding doesn’t make Trump a racist any more than Pershing’s channeling of Grant made Pershing a boozer.  Talk about fake news!

I do believe, however,  that two Trump-Jackson linkages, unrelated to the muddles described above, are as valid as they are important.  Neither is touched by writers on the left. The first is Trump’s admiration of Jackson’s military leadership and prowess, whether as an adolescent combatant in the American Revolution, an Indian fighter or as victor over the British in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans.  Jackson’s affinity for our military, which not all presidents have shared, is also Trump’s and may well help account for recent, smashing victories over ISIS.

The second linkage is Jackson’s role in the Nullification Crisis, when South Carolina abolished the Federal Tariff Act of 1832.  Jackson came down not on the side of states rights, but for the supremacy of United States law, even to the point of threatening to send down federal troops – “I will hang the first man I can lay my hand on (who is) engaged in such treasonable conduct, upon the first tree I can reach.” The spirit of Jackson seems to be guiding President Trump as he gears up through the courts, the Congress and local governments to meet challenges to federal law. As Attorney General Sessions reportedly put it in early December: ‘it’s time for the United States to ‘get its head on straight’ and crack down on so-called ‘sanctuary cities’ which refuse to cooperate with the federal government in enforcing U.S. immigration law.”

And much, much more:  (A) Lord only knows what could happen should “Calexit,” the current secession movement in California, ever get off the ground! and (B) what about the galloping conflicts between state laws which permit, if not promote, the sale and use of marijuana and the  Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which makes it illegal at the federal level?

I think it’s time to buckle up!

Richard Hoover, a retired Foreign Service officer, resides in southern Warren County.