Can’t U.S. survive Donald Trump?
Tommie Kidd provides a reminder of the parallels between Jackson and Trump and quoted Daniel Walker Howe:
Anyone with a classical education knew to regard such men as potential demagogues and tyrants; the word for the danger was “caesarism.” Jefferson delivered a straightforward opinion of Jackson’s presidential aspirations: “He is one of the most unfit men I know of for such a place.” In fact, no one liked Jackson for president except the voting public. Many of the latter, however, found in him a celebrity hero.” [italics added]
Kidd goes on to worry about Trump in the light of Jackson’s record:
Jackson did indeed display demagogic, “caesarist” tendencies as president. Contemptuous of constitutional restraints on his power, he vanquished one foe after another in scorched-earth campaigns against institutions and groups as varied as the Cherokee Indians, the Bank of the United States, and the cotton planters of South Carolina (his native state). He would set the stage for the forced removal of the Cherokees, and he destroyed the Bank in such a reckless fashion that the Senate censured him over it. Upon threat of invasion, he forced South Carolina to back down in the Nullification Crisis of 1832, a dispute over tariff policy and the global economy.
Whether or not the Trump presidency will feature such aggressive use of executive authority remains to be seen.
Why the parallels between Trump and Jackson when we have so little evidence — “remains to be seen”?
In fact, isn’t history supposed to rely on evidence?
What makes America “great” is that the nation became exceptional even after the presidency of Jackson. A historian might actually argue that the United Stated did not become great for another 125 years after Jackson’s presidency, not because it took that long to recover but because American greatness did not happen until Europe knocked itself out of the running for global dominance. Only after World War II did the U.S. emerge as the leader of the free world. Only then did the nation achieve greatness — if power and influence are the measures of accomplishment.
Tim Challies and Chris Gehrz have written recently about the virtues of studying history.
So study history and so learn to ask questions, seek (complicated) answers, feel empathy, and act prudently. But do all these things in humility, by the grace of the One whose power is made perfect in our weakness.
But why study history simply to become virtuous? Why not use the past to gain some perspective on the present (and not be shocked by it)? What if the United States was far healthier under Andrew Jackson, not because he was a great president or a godly man but because the footprint of the United States was far more modest and humble than what it became in the era of the liberal international order? What if the problem with the nation today is not the POTUS or a bloated federal government, but a nation whose appetites are far larger than what any nation’s should be?
If evangelicals asked fewer questions about personal character and more about national interest, history might teach a lot more compelling lessons.