NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — In his first days in the White House, Donald Trump hung a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office and likened his new administration to that of the snowy-haired man pictured on the $20 bill.
Trump is likely to revisit Jackson’s legacy Wednesday when he lays a wreath at Jackson’s tomb at his historic home in Nashville known as the Hermitage. The president also plans to speak at a Nashville rally to replace former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
A top Jackson biographer says the comparison of Trump and Jackson is “not the cleanest analogy,” but the seventh president offers the 45th a convenient example of “an unconventional presidency trying to accomplish big things.”
Trump has echoed Jackson’s outsider message to rural America by pledging to be a voice for “forgotten men and women.” The comparison aims to show that anti-establishment leaders can become transformative presidents, said Jon Meacham, who wrote a 2008 biography of Jackson titled “American Lion.”
Jackson first won fame as a military commander in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, when he led an American force that prevented a much larger British army from seizing the city and threatening the rest of the Louisiana Purchase. He was elected in 1828 as the right to vote was expanded to all white men, not just property owners, and he brought new voter groups into the fold.
Nicknamed “Old Hickory,” the Democrat was known for his advocacy for ordinary Americans. He was also a slave owner who forced Native Americans off their ancestral homelands in the Southeast. More than 4,000 died as they fled west, a journey that became known as the “Trail of Tears.”
Jackson’s era is remembered as the period when “the principle that political power in America rested with ordinary people became firmly entrenched,” according to another Jackson biographer, H.W. Brands.
“In time, this principle would mandate the extension of the vote to women and blacks,” Brands wrote in a column in the Tennessean newspaper. “But by then, the revolutionary nature of the Jacksonian achievement would have been largely forgotten. Democracy was taken for granted; it was seen as historically inevitable.
Nothing special was owed to Jackson in the matter.”
Trump did not show much interest in Jackson on the campaign trail. Then chief strategist Stephen Bannon told reporters after Trump’s inaugural address that the nation had not heard “a speech like that since Andrew Jackson came to the White House.”
There are fundamental differences in the paths they took to the presidency. Trump is a New York real estate mogul who came from wealth. Jackson was born into poverty and rose to become a wealthy lawyer and a national hero after the War of 1812.
Trump’s planned rally in Nashville comes on the heels of a Congressional Budget Office report that says the GOP’s health care plan would leave 14 million people without coverage next year and 24 million uninsured by 2026. The plan is disliked by both far-right conservatives, who want a large-scale repeal as they believe they were promised, and by Democrats, who oppose the loss of coverage for so many.
It’s unclear if Trump can match the ability of Jackson, who also served in the Tennessee Senate, to direct public theatrics toward political goals.
In one instance, Jackson is said to have shouted down and scared off callers who had come asking for economic relief during a crisis over the Bank of the United States, Meacham has written.
Afterward, his anger disappeared immediately and, with a smirk, he asked an aide, “Didn’t I manage them well?”
Jackson “was someone who understood his own weaknesses, and was often able to compensate for them,” Meacham said. “That’s something that I don’t think we’ve seen this president be able to do yet.”
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