Walter Russell Mead: Trump, and other Jacksonians

I’m a huge fan of Leo McGarry, the “West Wing” chief of staff who is one of many fictitious characters I wish actually lived in the world we inhabit.

If Leo's a Jacksonian, then they can't be all bad.

If Leo’s a Jacksonian, then they can’t be all bad.

But I’m not a fan of “Big Block of Cheese Day.” Not that I mind occasionally giving people from the margins a hearing — if only because it provided for some comic relief on the show, as it punctured some of the leading characters’ sense of self-importance, which Aaron Sorkin loved to do. It’s that I connect it with the penchant of Andrew Jackson of inviting rowdy people in to trash the White House. (Yeah, I’m kind of conflating the cheese incident with his inaugural bash, but bear with me.)

My second major in college was history (I don’t think I ever declared it; I just took that many history electives), and I sort of concentrated on the early years of the United States. And I became convinced at that time that the election of Jackson was one of the great political disasters our nation has suffered. It’s been a lot of years and I don’t remember my reasons, but a lot of it had to do with Jackson being an exemplar (in my young mind) of American anti-intellectualism and John Quincy Adams one of the best-qualified men ever to offer for the job.

I am not, you see, a populist.

All of that said, I read with interest this morning this piece by Columbia native Walter Russell Mead, headlined “Andrew Jackson, Revenant,” with the subhed, “The biggest story in America today is the roaring return of Andrew Jackson’s spirit into the political debate.” Going into it, I assumed it was about Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz, and Bernie Sanders. (Oh, you doubt Bernie would put a Big Block of Cheese in the White House and invite folks to come and bring their knives? I don’t.)

But after saying a lot of things in general about Jacksonians in history and the present day, Mead only really got around to tying them to Trump.

But that’s appropriate enough.

One surprising thing, to me, was the several ways these Jacksonians are like me: They are not joiners. They despise both parties equally. And… OK, that’s about all we have in common, except maybe for a belief in a strong national defense, and they don’t believe in that quite in the way I do, or for the same reasons.

But it illustrates how complicated politics can be, that I can have some things in common with a movement that makes me want to hug the Democratic and Republican establishments protectively.

This excerpt offers a sense of what Mead means when he speaks of Jacksonians, not entirely unsympathetically:

For President Barack Obama and his political allies in particular, Jacksonian America is the father of all evils. Jacksonians are who the then Senator had in mind when, in the campaign of 2008, he spoke of the ‘bitter clingers’ holding on to their guns and their Bibles. They are the source of the foreign policy instincts he most deplores, supporting Israel almost reflexively, demanding overwhelming response to terror attacks, agitating for tight immigration controls, resisting diplomacy with Iran and North Korea, supporting Guantanamo, cynical about the UN, skeptical of climate change, and willing to use ‘enhanced interrogation’ against terrorists in arms against the United States.

He hates their instincts at home, too. It is Jacksonians who, as I wrote in Special Providence back in 2001, see the Second Amendment as the foundation of and security for American freedom. It is Jacksonians who most resent illegal immigration, don’t want to subsidize the urban poor, support aggressive policing and long prison sentences for violent offenders and who are the slowest to ‘evolve’ on issues like gay marriage and transgender rights.

The hate and the disdain don’t spring from anything as trivial as pique. Historically, Jacksonian America has been the enemy of many of what President Obama, rightly, sees as some of America’s most important advances. Jacksonian sentiment embraces a concept of the United States as a folk community and, over time, that folk community was generally construed as whites only. Lynch law and Jim Crow were manifestations of Jacksonian communalism, and there are few examples of race, religious or ethnic prejudice in which Jacksonian America hasn’t indulged. Jacksonians have come a long way on race, but they will never move far enough and fast enough for liberal opinion; liberals are moving too, and are becoming angrier and more exacting regardless of Jacksonian progress….

All of that and more leads up to his assertion that “What we are seeing in American politics today is a Jacksonian surge.”

But go read the whole thing.

5 thoughts on “Walter Russell Mead: Trump, and other Jacksonians

  1. bud

    I am not, you see, a populist.

    No you’re not. If I had to put a label on you it would be neocon. But that’s probably an over simplification.

  2. Assistant

    Most establishmentarians don’t seem to grasp that the Donald Trump phenomenon has arisen because a lot of folks are distressed that their voices aren’t heard. The only common theme among those supporters is likely distress at the unrestricted immigration that seems to have taken place over the past twenty years, and it’s not just a white thing; many blacks and legal immigrants of all stripes (including Hispanics) believe that the governments (federal, state, and local) in general and both parties in particular have deviated from what’s best for the nation. Some of them believe that big business is also a guilty party, desiring cheaper foreign labor instead of paying citizens a fair wage, others see many small businesses, especially those in the agricultural sector, as villains for doing the same thing. All are quite suspicious of politicians and government employees (at all levels), believing that they’re carrying out an agenda that they try to hide from the public.

    It’s a lot like some of the movements seen in Europe where growing numbers of citizens are expressing dissatisfaction with the European Union in general and their national politicians in particular. The abuses in the old country seem to me to be a heckuva lot more extreme than what we’ve seen here at home.

    – The widespread organized child sexual abuse of no less than 1400 children that took place in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England, between 1997 and 2013 is horrifying. That the police covered it up is appalling, but true.
    – The organized sexual assaults on females this past New Year’s Eve in Germany (Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Bielefeld, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Weil, and Berlin), Finland (Helsinki), Sweden (Stockholm, Kalmar, and several others), Switzerland, and France. (In almost every city the police and news media attempted to quash any reporting of the assaults and rapes.)
    – The rise of rape and other violent crimes in previously crime-free European cities. (Sweden now has the second highest number of rapes in the world, after South Africa, which at 53.2 per 100,000 is six times higher than the United States. Statistics now suggest that 1 out of every 4 Swedish women will be raped.) Norway has seen a slight decrease in crime as the country began an ambitious program to deport “failed” asylum seekers at the rate of 20 per day.

    The common thread in all of these crimes is that they were committed by recent immigrants, in many cases newly admitted refugees, and law enforcement along with government at all levels conspired to conceal the details — the specific crimes such as rape and sexual assault, and the perpetrators — from the public, with news outlets acting as willing accomplices. It was only after several days of rumors and unofficial reports that surfaced that the authorities started to acknowledge the crimes and media began reporting the sickening details.

    Is it any wonder that immigration is a big deal? Trump was the first to bring it up and take a hard stand. Whether that’s enough to carry him to the GOP nomination and presidency remains to be seen.

    There’s probably veritable cornucopia of issues that Trump’s support groups disagree on, but nobody’s found a way to capitalize on those differences yet.

    1. Assistant

      Uh oh! Politico reports today that Trump has substantial support in the black and Hispanic communities.

      We are now all Jacksonians, let the carpet-bombing begin!

  3. JesseS

    I was listening to a comic’s podcast last night and the comedian had a great encapsulation of Trump.

    He is a man who reads the paper in the morning, gets behind a microphone at noon, and says the loudest, dumbest thing he can think of for attention. Is he wrong? Is he right? Is he the spirit of America’s evils? Are you frothing at the mouth?

    He is a mid-day radio Shock Jock who can make a jaw drop and get an idiot to call in and agree with him. Anything beyond that is giving Trump too much credit.

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