Daniel Feller, a University of Tennessee history professor and expert on Jackson’s presidency and life, will discuss the reasons for the frequent comparison and why it so often misses the mark during a lecture on March 18 in Albuquerque. The talk, titled “Donald Trump and the Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Relations,” is part of the Albuquerque International Association’s continuing lecture series.
Feller, who also previously taught history at the University of New Mexico, said the Trump comparisons to Jackson started before Trump won office and were based (and largely still are) on the notion of Jackson as a populist champion of the common man.
“President Trump and his people have embraced Andrew Jackson for that reason and his critics – mainly Democrats and sometimes left-leaning media – have said ‘Yeah, you are just like Andrew Jackson, not for being a populist but because you’re a racist and a bigot and an ignoramus and a demagogue,’ ” Feller said. “My modest interjection into this debate is to say, can we actually go back and look at Andrew Jackson and see what the real Andrew Jackson was like instead of these images that are caricatures on both sides?”
For one thing, while Trump had never held political office or served in the military and came from a wealthy background, Jackson arose from near-nothing and eventually came to the presidency with a distinguished record as a general, a member of the Tennessee Supreme Court and as a former legislator who served in the both the U.S. House and Senate. And despite his reputation as a ferocious warrior/general who led the American forces to victory against the British in the Battle of New Orleans – the final major confrontation of the War of 1812 – Jackson was reserved and non-confrontational in a military sense once he won the presidency.
Feller said that many people “confuse Andrew Jackson the general with Andrew Jackson the president.”
Of course, much of Jackson’s legacy today focuses on the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forcibly moved Native Americans from their lands in the American South toward the west. Trump was widely criticized in November when he honored Native American Code Talkers at the White House in front of a portrait of Jackson, while derisively referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as “Pocahontas,” a famed Native American known for her association with the settlement of Jamestown, Va.
Feller noted that Jackson’s Indian removal policy has historically gotten little attention, but that it has become a more important issue since the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. He said Jackson’s role – portrayed by some historians as sympathetic because he believed the Indians would otherwise be eradicated completely – deserves the renewed attention.
“It absolutely be should be a part of the conversation,” Feller said. “The question of Native Americans’, or Indians’, place in American society is still unresolved. It was very important to him and it was a very important issue in his time. We are in a way rescuing it (the issue) from obscurity.”
Feller also said it’s ironic that among major American political figures today, Jackson’s role in questioning the power of big banks and their power over the common man more closely aligns with Warren than with Trump.
“It’s natural for us to look for historical guideposts for policy to ground ourselves,” Feller said. “As a historian, I can say if we’re going to do that, let’s at least try to get it right.”