What Donald Trump And Andrew Jackson Do — And Don’t — Have In Common

Published March 15, 2017
Updated January 16, 2018
Published March 15, 2017
Updated January 16, 2018

The 45th president will be visiting the grave of Andrew Jackson this week.

Trump Jackson

Michael Reynolds-Pool/Getty ImagesU.S. President Donald Trump, beneath a portrait of populist President Andrew Jackson.

A few days after Donald Trump settled into the Oval Office, a portrait of Andrew Jackson was hung on the wall and a biography of the seventh president was placed on Trump’s desk (presumably as a prop, since the Commander-in-Chief admittedly doesn’t read).

If he did skim the pages describing Jackson’s controversial legacy, though, he apparently liked what he saw.

Even as Obama ousted the slave-owning, Indian-killing Jackson from the $20 bill, Trump basked in comparisons between him and Old Hickory.

Harriet Tubman — the woman whose portrait was chosen to replace Jackson’s for her work leading slaves to freedom, rather than purchasing them — was “fantastic,” Trump said. But, he added, that doesn’t mean we should slight Jackson.

“Well, Andrew Jackson had a great history, and I think it’s very rough when you take somebody off the bill,” Trump said during a town hall on the Today show. “I think Harriet Tubman is fantastic, but I would love to leave Andrew Jackson or see if we can maybe come up with another denomination.”

Maybe the no-longer-printed $2 bill, he suggested.

This week, Trump will lay a wreath on Andrew Jackson’s Nashville grave before hosting another campaign-style rally with no identifiable purpose.

By paying homage to a guy born 250 years ago today, Trump is encouraging more commentary on the similarities and differences between the two administrations.

So, here it is:

Populist rhetoric:

Both Trump and Jackson relied heavily on appealing to white, lower class Americans’ underdog mentality.

“Like Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement,” chief strategist Steve Bannon promised after the election. And Rudolph Giuliani said it was “like Andrew Jackson’s victory. This is the people beating the establishment.”

Both Trump and Jackson managed to appeal to this group in spite of their membership in the country’s most elite and wealthy circles. The difference is that Jackson, unlike Trump, came from humble roots and worked his way to the top.

Jackson was a military general (a hero in the War of 1812) and had extensive government experience — serving terms in the House and Senate and as governor of Florida. Trump evaded the draft five times and has never held political office.

“In truth, the two have little in common besides the distrust they have inspired in certain elements of the political elites of their day,” historian H.W. Brands wrote in Politico. “Trump’s penthouse populism is a sham; Jackson’s was the real thing.”

Claiming the election was rigged:

Jackson also said the election had been rigged against him. Unlike Trump, though, he won the popular vote each time he ran — including when he lost the general election in 1824.

After his initial loss, Jackson began a campaign to undermine the electoral system — insisting it ignored the “voice of the people.”

Conversely, Trump lost the popular vote and invented a conspiracy theory about immigrants voting illegally to help Hillary Clinton win.

“If Trump intends to become a Jacksonian man of the people, he will have to do something to attract the majority who voted for candidates other than him,” Steve Inskeep, who has written a biography on Jackson, wrote in The Atlantic.

Draining — and then quickly refilling — the swamp:

Both Jackson and Trump campaigned on a promise to kick Washington elites out of power.

They both upheld that promise, but then quickly replaced the ousted political regulars with “a new coalition of elites.”

“There is something Jacksonian both in Trump’s promise to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington and his early moves to refill the swamp with wealthy friends, loyal supporters, and family members,” Inskeep said.

Discriminatory acts against Native Americans:

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 — or the Trail of Tears — was unquestionably Jackson’s darkest act as president.

His unfairly negotiated treaties forced Native American tribes to abandon their ancestral homes in the Southeastern United States for less favorable settlements West of the Mississippi.

More than 4,000 Indians died on the journey from hunger, exposure and disease.

Of course Donald Trump has not committed such acts against this country’s indigenous people. But his relationship with American Indians is hostile at best after several lawsuits over casinos and racist media campaigns — paid for by Trump — portraying Native Americans as violent criminals and addicts.

Jackson “was as ferocious in inflicting harm on a people as he often was in defending the rights of those he thought of as the people,” Jon Meacham wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, “American Lion.”

Mixing presidential duties with business:

Both Jackson and Trump are using their political power to help boost their real estate ventures.

As a general, Jackson took land from Indians, on which he and his friends then built prosperous plantations.

Trump also used his platform for financial gain, promoting his hotels and golf courses throughout his campaign and continues to host foreign officials there. He also admits that he “might have” discussed global business ventures with foreign politicians even since the election.

One striking difference here is that Jackson — recognizing the potential harm of such conflicts of interest — asked a friend to help settle his business affairs before taking on the new role.

Trump, meanwhile, has handed his business over to his children (hardly eliminating ties) and maintains over 500 conflicts of interest, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Opinions of each other:

As Trump treks across the country to wish Jackson a happy birthday, it’s clear he has a high opinion of the iconic figure.

But while it’s obviously impossible to know what Jackson would have thought of his eventual successor, historians who have studied him feel there’s little chance he’d have ever donned a red baseball cap.

Where Jackson killed a man for insulting his one and only wife, Trump bragged about sexual assault (while married to his third spouse).

Where Jackson’s courage in battle places him second only to George Washington in as a legendary war hero, Trump skipped service due to “bad feet.”

Where Jackson won 56 percent of the popular vote, Trump won 46 percent.

Where Jackson championed the media, Trump disparages it.

Where Jackson promoted modesty — declaring in his inaugural speech that he would “keep steadily in view the limitations as well as the extent of the executive power” — Trump says “I alone can fix it.”

So, would Andrew Jackson — a man who owned 150 African Americans and was responsible for the deaths of 4,000 Native Americans — want his time in the West Wing to be compared to the presidency of Donald Trump?

Over his dead body.

Next, read more about Trump’s longstanding feud with Native Americans.. Then, learn how the original “America First” movement came to an abrupt end.

Annie Garau
Annie is a NYC-based writer.