by Gail Collins · March 16, 2017
President Trump at the grave of President Andrew Jackson in Nashville on Wednesday. Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Donald Trump wants us to think he’s like Andrew Jackson. So there he was, at Jackson’s home in Tennessee on Wednesday, celebrating Old Hickory’s 250th birthday.
Fans called Jackson “Old Hickory” because he was tough and shared his men’s hardship and deprivation in the Army. There are no similar anecdotes for Donald Trump, although we are looking into a rumor he once sat with an aide in business class.
Quick question: What kind of tree nickname should Donald Trump have?
A) Old Slippery Elm
B) Old Gopherwood
C) Old Hackberry
D) Old Ornamental Dogwood
The visit was part of Trump’s ongoing effort to present himself as Hickory’s outsider soul brother. Two instinctive friends of the common man, only one of whom has been repeatedly charged with stiffing his contractors.
“It was during the Revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite. Does that sound familiar?” the president asked a crowd of visitors as he stood in front of Jackson’s house, the Hermitage.
During the Revolution, while Jackson was a teenager, he served as a messenger for the rebels, was captured by the British, spent time in a prison camp, lost two brothers and his mother. The kinship here would be … that military-themed boarding school?
Trump truly is a big Jackson fan. We know that because he said, “I’m a fan.” But they’re really not all that similar.
Which president would you compare him to? Some people pick James Buchanan, who always winds up on the bottom when it comes to worst presidents. I cannot tell you how eager Buchanan fans are for the day that Donald Trump gets out of office and into the rankings.
Unlike Trump, most of our chief executives came to the job after having experience holding other public office. Even Jackson was in Congress. Maybe we could better compare Trump to Zachary Taylor, who had done absolutely nothing but be a soldier. If Taylor had been required to put together a health care plan, it would probably have looked like the one that’s currently staggering around Washington.
Or is Trump like Franklin Pierce? If you want to check it out, I’ll bet people at Franklin Pierce’s home in New Hampshire would be really, really happy to have more visitors. And since Pierce is usually near the bottom of the charts, it’s another camp that’s hoping the Trump administration just keeps going the way it is now.
Like Trump, Pierce was into cleanliness. And neither man was wiretapped by his predecessor. See, there’s a lot of commonality.
Rutherford B. Hayes? I am only bringing him up because nobody ever brings up Rutherford B. Hayes. Hayes did get into office without winning the popular vote. And he installed the first White House telephone. Can you imagine a President Trump with no connection to the outside world but telegraph? Has to mean something.
Ronald Reagan? Don’t compare Trump to Ronald Reagan. You’ll just encourage him.
Since Trump was channeling Andrew Jackson, maybe we could talk about Richard Johnson, who was vice president under Jackson’s successor, Martin Van Buren. Now there was a guy who rose to power with the help of an over-the-top persona. Like Jackson, Johnson presented himself as a man of humble origins. But in reality, he had a dad who owned a ton of real estate. And like Trump, he became a politician with a lot of money who complained about the moneyed class.
He also had a wild hairstyle. Things eventually went south for Johnson financially, and he attempted to recoup by opening up a tavern back home. He spent much of his vice presidency tending bar in Kentucky. While this doesn’t really serve our attempts to make a connection, you have to love imagining Donald Trump winding up serving drinks at Applebee’s.
But about Andrew Jackson. He subscribed to 16 newspapers, so that’s a little like spending your evenings staring at Fox. And if Old Hickory had access to a Twitter account, God knows what would have happened. (“Henry Clay still plotting against me! Stealing my mail! Hiding in the bushes! Sad!”)
Some critics have also noted that Jackson was very enthusiastic about clearing nonwhite residents out of the country. On Wednesday, Trump got around that one by declaring the seventh president “a product of his time.”
When we think of Jackson now, we often remember his war against the banks, which set the stage for a financial panic and ensuing depression. None of that came up in Tennessee, although Trump did say approvingly that Jackson “battled the centralized financial power that brought influence at our citizens’ expense.”
During Trump’s second week in office he started a review of an Obama rule requiring investment brokers to put their clients’ interest first. Do you think Andy would have approved? Just asking.