Grasping at historical straws, President Donald J. Trump and his supporters have likened him, absurdly, to Andrew Jackson. The analogy is false in every detail.
Jackson came to the presidency with an enormous popular mandate; Mr. Trump didn’t even win the popular vote. Jackson was defeated in 1824 amid charges that corruption and untoward interference had turned the election; Mr. Trump won amid charges of corruption and interference. Jackson devoted his presidency to warring against the system that made Mr. Trump his fortune, the swindler capitalism that defrauds humble and honest Americans.
Jackson thundered against the rich and powerful who thwarted democracy; Mr. Trump thunders against illegal immigrants. Jackson and his party came to power thanks to a steady expansion of the citizenry and the democratic vote; Mr. Trump’s party seeks to narrow the citizenry through unsubtle voter suppression. Jackson vindicated the federal government and crushed those like John C. Calhoun who sought to demonize it; Mr. Trump demonizes the federal government — more Calhoun than Old Hickory.
Jackson bore on his skull deep scars from the wounds he suffered as a boy soldier in the Revolution, and, badly outnumbered, he defeated the British at New Orleans. For the rest of his life, he remained resolute that United States should stand as a bulwark against foreign monarchies and tyrannies. Mr. Trump the draft dodger seeks accord with the murderous President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.
Historians describe Jackson as a fearless and sometimes fearsome populist who rode a groundswell of public outrage. Mr. Trump has tried to come across the same way, promising, in his Inaugural Address, to return the government to the people. But plenty of politicians over the years have tried the same gambit. Mr. Trump’s phony populism, the latest in a long line of phony populisms, has been his greatest con. It has nothing to do with Andrew Jackson or Jacksonian Democracy, or any kind of democracy at all.
Sean Wilentz is a professor of history at Princeton.