Cash will probably be a novelty in the future, so imagine, then, that in the rare instance you handle some $20 notes, the face etched on every crisp bill is that of former president Donald J Trump.
Absurd? Had you asked pundits during the 1824 presidential campaign whether General Andrew Jackson’s mug would ever grace the United States’s third-most popular greenback, they would have called you insane. The Washington political establishment believed that Jackson’s short temper, reckless disregard for political niceties and desire to insult (or shoot) his enemies meant he simply wasn’t presidential material.
But in 1828, four years after he had won the popular vote but, through the quirks of the system, lost the election, the American people, fed up with backroom “politics as usual”, propelled Jackson to the White House for the first of two terms.
Last August, when the Trump campaign seemed like a sideshow, I compared him with 19th-century president Millard Fillmore. Now I realise that Trump is actually the true heir to Jackson. On Super Tuesday, the man who claimed he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and [not] lose voters” is firmly poised to move from the category of political theatre to being the presumptive Republican nominee.
Parallels between Jackson and Trump
The Jackson era gives us some clues as to what might happen if Trump wins the White House.
Like Trump, Jackson was a mean-spirited “outsider”. As president, he destroyed the US’s central banking system, and he forcibly repatriated Native Americans from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, an action just short of genocide. He distrusted most politicians (he regretted not being able to murder his own vice-president) and disliked the “rich and powerful” – despite being a rich and powerful slave owner himself – who “too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes”.
Jackson forcibly repatriated Native Americans from Georgia to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears, an action just short of genocide. (Painting: Robert Lindneux)
Jackson rose to prominence following the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812 and the First Seminole War in Florida. He may have been a war hero, but his public notoriety also included killing a man in a duel in 1806 for insulting his wife, and he wasn’t taken seriously by his presidential competitors.
Former president Thomas Jefferson told fellow lawmaker Daniel Webster: “I feel much alarmed at the prospect of seeing General Jackson president. He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.
He has had very little respect for laws and constitutions … [and] his passions are terrible. When I was president of the Senate, he was senator; and he could never speak on account of the rashness of his feelings. I have seen him attempt it repeatedly, and as often choke with rage. He is a dangerous man.”
But where Jefferson saw Jackson’s passions as terrible, the electorate viewed them as a virtue – much like Trump supporters are embracing his “tell it like it is” style. Similarly, just as the US’s modern Congress is beloved by no one, in the 1820s popular feelings toward Washington’s elite were much the same. As Jackson would later say, the point of government is that it is “administered for the good of the people, and is regulated by their will”. He railed against professional politicians, whom he considered “demagogues”. He would later go on to write a book titled The World Is Governed Too Much, which might as well be the tagline of the 2016 Republican Party.
Plenty of reasons to be ‘scared’
What will the Republican establishment do this year if Trump continues to march toward the nomination? The more he’s criticised, the stronger he appears to become and the closer we come to returning to the worst excesses of Jacksonian democracy – where populism is valued over all else and professional lawmakers are seen as enemies to be vanquished.
General Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, was a mean-spirited outsider, much like Donald Trump. (Dennis Brack, Bloomberg News)
If Trump is our new Andrew Jackson – and if he loses this year – what does that mean for 2020? A lot can happen between now and then, but if Trump’s base feels disenfranchised by a Democrat in the Oval Office and by a Republican Party they feel has subverted the will of the people, there’s no reason not to expect a galvanised Trump campaign the next time around.
The 1824 election killed the Democratic-Republicans as a political party; 2016 may well kill the Republican Party as we know it. Where Jackson had his Trail of Tears, Trump will have his Mexican wall; where Jackson dismantled the Second Bank of the US, Trump might take on the Federal Reserve. Jackson – even when he was right – bullied members of Congress, and Trump will undoubtedly do the same. Some of Jackson’s racism can be explained away by the times in which he lived. But what about Trump’s?
There are plenty of reasons to be scared of a Trump presidency, and it is worth remembering that, if history does indeed repeat itself, first as tragedy and then as farce, someday Donald Trump will get his face on the money, too.
Nine things we learned from Super Tuesday
- Donald Trump is not the Republican nominee … yet.
- Nevertheless, it was a big night for the New York billionaire, and for Hillary Clinton. They won seven states each, picked up armloads of delegates and advanced their respective claims on their parties’ presidential nominations.
- It’s not over yet. On the Democrat Party side, Bernie Sanders’s four state victories keep the race alive and, on the Republican side, Ted Cruz’s big win in Texas, plus wins in Oklahoma and Alaska do the same.
- Florida senator Marco Rubio had a tough night. He won only one state – Minnesota – and fell short of the 20% minimum needed to earn delegates in Texas, Alabama and Vermont. He has fallen 74 delegates behind Cruz.
- Rubio vowed to fight on, telling supporters the race was in its early stages and he would start to clean up later this month.
- Clinton profited from giant 60- to 80-point margins among African American voters across the South.
- What about Ben Carson and John Kasich? Kasich came in second in Vermont. Carson was in contention nowhere. Kasich called on Rubio to drop out and Carson said: “I will remain.”
- The races could resolve dramatically in the next two weeks. Nine states host contests between now and March 15, when the battles suddenly become winner-takes-all and crucial states, including Florida, Ohio and North Carolina, will vote.
- There was a strange Trump victory-rally-slash-press-conference that ran interminably long. What made it strange was the look of doom on the face of New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who endorsed Trump last Friday. He introduced the billionaire and then stood glumly behind him the whole time. – Tom McCarthy © Guardian News & Media 2016