IS TRUMP MORE LIKE FDR OR JACKSON?

Inauguration Day 2017 placed the U.S. on a new political/economic trajectory. President Donald Trump won the votes of the so-called Rust Belt where workers, and their children and grandchildren who have been dispossessed and displaced by the economics of globalization, turned blue counties into red counties. Thus, in a legitimate sense, Trump’s appeal to the “forgotten man” – so similar to that of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s appeal to the same symbol — is valid. FDR’s forgotten man was a composite of all those who were unemployed in the Great Depression who were “forgotten” in the sense that their plight was not being taken seriously enough by government.

Trump also appealed to another neglected constituency in our republic, namely those disaffected by the intense political correctness attacks on individual freedom and, related to this, by attacks upon the sanctity of property and individual responsibility. In short, millions upon millions have become increasingly victims of federal government intrusion into their lives. The intrusions have come from excessive federal laws (e.g., Affordable Care Act), regulatory mandates by out-of-control bureaucracies, constitutional violations such as those presented by the implementation of Common Core, and encouragement of politically correct speech, which encouragement tends to undermine the First Amendment protections afforded all of us. The individuals harmed by these governmental trends also might aptly be called “forgotten men/women.”

Yet, increasingly, Trump is being compared not to Roosevelt but to Pres. Andrew Jackson who served two terms from 1829 to 1837. TV commentators and supporters of Trump are happy to make this comparison. Andrew Jackson was also a president who gave voice to the views and aspirations of a “forgotten” population. He was the first President elected outside of the Virginia political aristocracy and the Adams family of Massachusetts – in short, outside the original founding states. His home was in Tennessee, and thus he represented a new constituency of the westward expansion, men and women who were not part of the Eastern establishment. Eight of the eleven states that had been added to the union before his election could be considered “western.” Also, property qualifications for voting were being rescinded during the decades following the election of George Washington, and thus, by 1828, more of the working masses were enfranchised than during earlier decades. Thus, Jackson drew support from those who had in earlier elections felt left out of the political process.

But the similarity between Trump and Jackson ends at that point where both men give voice to previously ignored constituencies. If we compare the First Inaugural speech of Jackson with that of Trump on Jan. 20, we see very different philosophies of government expressed. In his inaugural, Jackson portrayed himself repeatedly as being what we would today call “a constitutional conservative.”   Although later portrayed by various historians and by the press at that time as seeking to impose an imperial presidency, in his inaugural address Jackson was at pains to state his respect for the limitations of the power of the presidency in the U.S. Constitution, and the importance of states’ rights to the federalist structure of government we enjoy.

However, Trump never mentions these constitutional niceties in his remarks, but sees himself in almost a mystical connection with “the people.” In this regard, he stated, “we [the people and himself] … are now joined in a great national effort to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.” In making this statement, he sounds more like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the philosopher behind the French Revolution. For Rousseau, government was linked to the people through the “General Will” of the people, not by enumerated powers, rights, and responsibilities that defined the British Constitutional tradition. Trump states that he is transferring power back to the people, unlike Jackson who, working within the Constitutional framework, wishes to assure that power is kept by the states. One might even make a case that Trump’s idea of transferring power back to the people is first cousin to the “power to the people” black activism of the black power movement of the sixties and early seventies. Only now, Trump would be applying that concept to all people, not only to the African-American population.

Trump’s tone in his inaugural was actually far more militant than that of Jackson in his first speech. Jackson only had to face the British in the War of 1812 as our foreign enemy, and he cautiously states that “standing armies [are] dangerous to free governments in time of peace.”   However, Trump declares that he will smash radical Islam which has been allowed to grow to unprecedented degrees. Protection of the citizenry was also emphasized by Trump as he affirmed his commitment to “the great men and women of our military and law enforcement, and…we are protected by God.” The interests of God, law enforcement, and the military all converge under “protection,” and “protection” merges with the presidency.

In Jackson’s inaugural, he affirmed that “Internal improvements and the diffusion of knowledge…are of high importance.” Likewise, Trump expressed his intention to build “new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.” But these infrastructure improvements are for Trump part of a bigger picture of “rebuilding our country with American hands and American labor.” In stating this, he takes his own advice to “think big and dream even bigger.” In his speech he put forth a vision that goes far beyond infrastructure growth and enhancement. He attempted to communicate a transcendent vision of unity and healing where a broken, divided, and violent land becomes whole as never before, with “one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.”

The informed student of history will conclude that President Trump, like FDR and Jackson, is supported by constituencies that have been previously ignored by candidates of both political parties. With his emphasis on infrastructure restoration, Trump sounds a bit like FDR as one remembers the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Public Works Administration. His almost-mystical sense of connection with the people of the USA and with an abstract sense of “unity” suggests to this writer a type of hyper-paternalism, not unlike the radio fireside chats of Roosevelt. Yet, in giving voice to desperate masses of people who for decades – not just for two years of economic depression — felt that no one cared, and no one listened, he is more like Jackson whose presidency challenged the status quo.

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