Trail of tears

3/31/2017, 5:39 p.m.
Most people who are keenly observant of or listen closely to President Trump will recognize that he is a fan ...

Most people who are keenly observant of or listen closely to President Trump will recognize that he is a fan of President Andrew Jackson. 

If “fan” is overzealous, it can be said that President Jackson is inspirational to his current successor in The Office. After all, President Trump is the first chief executive since President Ronald Reagan to honor President Jackson with a speech on his birthday — the 250th birthday. President Trump also boasts about his portrait of President Jackson in the Oval Office.

Before someone becomes sentimental about President Trump honoring President Jackson with his March 15 birthday visit to Nashville, Tenn., we need to refresh our collective memory about President Jackson. Known as a frontiersman who sprang to prominence from humble beginnings, he is arguably a polar opposite from President Trump in background and upbringing. I, and others, would argue that President Jackson and President Trump are “cut from the same cloth” and are more similar in background and character than commonly acknowledged.

With fame as a soldier, few, except historians, know that President Jackson, like President Trump, earned much of his wealth from the purchase and sale of property. In a partnership with two other investors, President Jackson acquired lands that had been reserved by treaty from the Cherokee and Chickasaw nations. Known as the “Jackson Purchase” in 1818, a portion of those lands was used by the investors to found the city of Memphis in 1819.

President Jackson’s ascendancy to the presidency marked the beginning of the “spoils systems,” a derivation from a quotation attributed to New York Sen. William Marcy — “To the victor belongs the spoils.” 

Under President Jackson, political patronage that rewarded relatives, friends and supporters with government jobs and positions flourished. Without consideration for merit, these jobs were used as incentives to inspire continued loyalty and support.

President Trump’s positioning of his family, sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner; friends, Carl Icahn and Steve Bannon; financial contributors, Betsy DeVos, Linda McMahon and Steve Mnuchin; and political supporters, Jeff Sessions, Reince Prebus and others, reflect President Trump’s affinity for Jacksonian politics. Although reforms against this type of cronyism began in 1883, President Trump has used every legal consideration available to deflect the scrutiny from his more questionable appointments.

Dr. E. Faye Williams

If one were to accurately characterize President Jackson, the label “inhumane” is easily applied. Other than the “It was the nature of the times!” defense, which is no defense at all, there is no excuse for President Jackson’s ownership of slaves and active participation in the slave trade.

In addition, President Jackson’s most infamous crime against humanity was his orchestration of Indian Removal policies. Commonly lumped under the title Trail of Tears, President Jackson’s policies of forcibly relocating native nations from traditional settlements included the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole and Muscogee nations.

Contrary to the stereotypical “savage” image constructed to explain away and justify the brutal treatment of Native people, the Cherokee and affiliated nations were just as, if not more, civilized as the Anglo-European oppressors. They had an organized system of government, written language and a printed newspaper, schools and institutions comparable to their invaders. 

In violation of ratified treaties, Andrew Jackson orchestrated the removal and forced march of nations from their lands, some as far east as the Carolinas, to the Oklahoma territory. Their journey was notably brutal. They suffered from starvation, exposure and disease. Thousands died.

Although President Trump has not yet initiated acts of comparable brutality, his personal anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Hispanic xenophobia has infected the national psyche. Travel bans, Trumpcare and the attempt to eliminate health insurance for 24 million Americans, subliminal appeals to we-against-them violence and the normalization of intolerance are all hallmarks of the new America by President Trump.

Only through our active resistance can we ensure that future generations will not read about a 21st century Trail of Tears.

The writer is national president of the National Congress of Black Women Inc.