Trump’s Jacksonian Moment

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As the patriotic pageantry of Inauguration Day gave way to the demonstrations of defiance Saturday, our new America came into view. We are two nations now, two peoples.

Though bracing, President Trump’s inaugural address was rooted in cold truths, as he dispensed with the customary idealism of inaugurals that are forgotten within a fortnight of the president being sworn in.

Trump’s inaugural was Jacksonian.

He was speaking to and for the forgotten Americans whose hopes he embodies, pledging to be their champion against those who abandon them in pursuit of higher, grander, nobler causes. Declared Trump:

For too long, a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth. Politicians prospered, but the jobs left and the factories closed.

Is this not true? American wages have stagnated as scores of thousands of factories were shut down or shipped abroad. Five of the six wealthiest counties in the U.S. today, measured by median household income, are the suburbs of Washington, D.C.

Inaugurals should lift us up, wailed the media, this was “dark.”

And Trump did paint a grim picture—of “mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our … students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime and the gangs and the drugs…”

But is this not also a reality of America 2017?

Indeed, it carries echoes of FDR’s second inaugural: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. … The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

Some of the recoil to Trump’s speech is surely traceable to an awareness by those covering and commenting upon it—that this was a searing indictment of them and their own ruling class.

With America’s political elite sitting behind him, Trump accused them of enriching “foreign industry,” not ours, of subsidizing other countries’ armies but neglecting our own, of defending other nation’s borders while leaving America’s borders unprotected.

Then, in the line that will give his address its name in history, he declared: “From this day forward it’s going to be only America First.”

Prediction: Trump’s “America First” inaugural will be recalled as the most controversial, but will be among the most remembered.

What did Trump mean by “America First”?

“Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

What does it mean for the world?

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we do so with the understanding that it is the right of other nations to put their own interests first. We do not seek to impose our way of life on anyone, but rather to let it shine as an example. We will shine for everyone to follow.”

Denounced as isolationism, this is in an old and great tradition.

Ronald Reagan talked of America being a “shining city on a hill” for other nations to emulate.

John Quincy Adams declared:

Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled there will America’s hearts, her benedictions, and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher of the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

When the Hungarian patriot Louis Kossuth came to America seeking aid for the revolution of 1848, Henry Clay told him:

Far better is it for ourselves, for Hungary, and for the cause of liberty, that … avoiding the distant wars of Europe, we should keep our lamp burning brightly on the western shore, as a light to all nations, than to hazard its utter extinction among the ruins of fallen or falling republics in Europe.

The charge of “isolationist” was thrown in the face of Clay. But he prevailed, and America stayed out of Europe’s wars until 1917 when Woodrow Wilson, fatefully, plunged us in.

In 1936, FDR said, “We shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars. … We are not isolationists except insofar as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. … I hate war.”

What Trump was saying in his inaugural is that we will offer our free and independent republic as an example to other nations, but it is not our providential mission to reshape the world in our own image.

“We will reinforce old alliances” that are in our interests, Trump declared. But we are approaching the end of an era where we fought other nations’ wars and paid other nations’ bills.

We will no longer bleed and bankrupt our country for the benefit of others. Henceforth, America will be of, by, and for Americans.

Is that not what the nation voted for?

Patrick J. Buchanan is a founding editor of The American Conservative and the author of the book The Greatest Comeback: How Richard Nixon Rose From Defeat to Create the New Majority.

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15 Responses to Trump’s Jacksonian Moment

  1. Petrus says:

    In 1936, FDR said, “We shun political commitments which might entangle us in foreign wars. … We are not isolationists except insofar as we seek to isolate ourselves completely from war. … I hate war.”

    And yet, we all know how that worked out in 1941, and also, several decades later, how Bush Jr’s declaration on “humble foreign policy” has led to the seemingly unending misery in the Middle East.

  2. Janice Barrett says:

    Here is an interesting look at an essay written by Barack Obama when he was a student at Columbia University:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.ca/2017/01/a-young-barack-obama-and-his-ironic.html

    It is so ironic that he is now the only POTUS to serve his full term in a state of war.

  3. Lee says:

    With the news release this morning of the Obama administration release of millions of dollars to foreign and international entities, the first area to consider in our new “America first” posture might be our foreign aid programs.

  4. collin says:

    Is that not what the nation voted for?

    No not according to voting totals:
    1) Trump is still in campaign mode blaming all liberals and immigrants for the carnage! He has not made any attempts for unity.
    2) Trump is completely siding with the private sector Ruling Class.

  5. David says:

    I really like Pat but he is aware is he not that the Jackson he is favorably referring to should have been impeached for not enforcing the Supreme Court ruling regarding the Cherokees? He had an absolute obligation to defend their rights and the Trail of Tears, the domestic version of the Bataan Death March can be directly attributed to his failure to do so. So forgive me if I think the comparison here is not appropriate.

  6. John Gruskos says:

    Trump’s America First promises aroused the wrath of the establishment against the “deplorables” who elected him.

    The establishment is already taking its revenge – vigilante attacks; intense media, entertainment, and academic demonization of Trump supporters, compared to which the attacks on Trump himself are mild; and dark hints of economic warfare against Middle America.

    If Trump doesn’t deliver on his promises, we will be worse off than if he had never run.

    Unfortunately, many of his appointees are establishment figures who support invade-the-world/invite-the-world. If their policies supersede Trump’s promises, American working families will be harmed.

    There has already been one disappointment. Trump promised to rescind Obama’s unconstitutional administrative amnesty on his first day in office. (All the other Republican candidates promised the same – even Marco Rubio!) Trump’s first day is over. DACA was not rescinded.

  7. I believe the deepest irony in Mr. Buchanan’s commentary is that the protectionist policies that the Trump Administration is espousing will likely do relatively little for those in the manufacturing sector and harm everyone else in the country.

    The majority of research shows that protectionism tends to lead to very small overall gains in manufacturing employment. The Obama Administration’s 2009 tire tariffs against China are one contemporary example. Overall, these policies lead to slight upticks in employment and job creation in manufacturing, but lead to across the board increases in the prices of consumer goods, which effectively reduce the spending power of American families.

    These policies that Pat speaks so eloquently about may create a few photo-op moments for the new administration at a “saved” factory, but one should be aware that those jobs, snatched from the abyss of outsourcing, will likely be obliterated by automation and global market forces in the coming years.

  8. jeff says:

    It’s a stretch to compare Trump to Jackson – even if their personalities inspired similar ire in opponents – when Trump has nominated the most elite cabinet ever. This is the opposite of Jackson’s efforts to have a government of the “common man.” Corporate CEOs, titans of finance, former generals, and heavy campaign contributors aren’t exactly the common man. Only Perry seems like the common man elevated into the elite governing class.

  9. He does not deserve to be your standard bearer or anyone else’s.

    He is Fyodor Karamazov, as played by Lee J. Cobb.

    He has no business anywhere real power is exercised.

  10. EarlyBird says:

    For a very long time Americans have bitterly complained about the US being “the world’s policeman,” while so many around the world have called us war mongers. Well now we have a chance to see what happens when these calls are finally heeded.

    If Trump actually stays out of unnecessary wars, if he really does resist the demand to show “American leadership!” in the face of the next international horror show, he will have done a great service.

    My concern about Trump, alas, as it always has been, is his character and insecurity and need to show that he’s tough. That particular trait does not seem like the kind of president who is able to show restraint. We will see soon enough.

  11. Casimir Adler-Ivanbrook says:

    Searing? Ruling class? I did not hear the Barons of Wall Street being called out for their excesses. Did anyone? And raiders who turned those factories into rusted out shells? All I heard was something about a small faction in the capital being held responsible. Politicians, right? So, what about those who helped cause the carnage of 2008? Only the politicians…. ?

  12. Conewago says:

    Mr. Buchanan:

    With all due respect, you make references to the past American idea of our country needing isolationism to prevent its status as a “shining city on a hill” from being lost. But President Trump has so far shown an unfortunately limited comprehension of America as an idea. He comprehends America as a place and “American” as an identity. But in his ignorance of the Constitution and so on, he shows a limited comprehension of America’s republican principles.

    In this way he does indeed resemble the populists of our past who

    Andrew Jackson, FDR …. these were not good Presidents. We remember them. But they made America more democratic. And “more democracy” is exactly what the country’s republican founders objected to, since history shows clearly the failure of democracies.

    One of this country’s biggest problems is in its ignorance. Perhaps this explains why so many were so inclined towards Trump. We think power can fix ignorance.

  13. Conewago says:

    @ David

    You’re right. The obligation of the President is to uphold the Constitution. The Supreme Court’s decision in favor of the Cherokees was clearly correct under the Constitution, and Jackson never argued otherwise. Moreover, the Cherokees had culturally adapted themselves to the ways of their Scotch-Irish American neighbors and were actually becoming successful planters in their own right. These people were not a threat to anyone.

    But Jackson decided to be the Tennesssean Thrasymachus that he was at heart – “Justice favors the strong.” Or, in this case, justice favored the Georgia upcountry planters and associates who were Jackson’s base.

    Trump’s Presidency will be good for this country only if conservatives can take the good with the bad and use both to educate the populace about the necessity for the rule of law – real law, not the executive orders and judicial tyranny of liberalism, nor the power-hungry demagoguery of populism, both of which just end up in plain old injustice – and move the country towards what it needs.

    Trump’s immigration announcement today would be a good thing. On the other hand, the way in which conservatives now seem disinclined towards careful and deliberative governance in accord with the Constitution, is extremely concerning. We may get a good Supreme Court justice or two from Trump, but what will that matter in the long run if conservatives continue to surrender to liberals and populists in failing to inculcate a respect for humble and narrowly-tailored governance into the people of this country? What we need from our leaders is a measured sense of patience, not the near-rage of a populism that lacks the ideas that sustain American identity. The current situation of this new administration reminds me of Jefferson’s quip about the French revolutionaries “scalding their throats” by drinking too quickly their glass of revolution.

  14. Jack says:

    He has not made any attempts for unity.

    But why bother? Doesn’t it make sense in such a hotly divided country to NOT attempt unity? Liberals hate Trump. If he compromised his positions and reached out to them would they soften their hate? I don’t think so. And all that would accomplish is to offend his base. So he would lose all around.

  15. Greg Pacetti says:

    Pat as always you make very good points but at the end…Is that not what the Nation voted for,,,,no it wasn’t
    He didn’t when a majority, most didn’t vote for his type of isolationism,,,,myself included….Greg Pacetti

    Also I have always had much respect for your post of view.

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