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by Dan Brawner Columnist · May 11th, 2017


Donald Trump's hero is our seventh president, Andrew Jackson. Not that he knows much about Old Hickory, but he seems to like the cut of his jib (if he knew what a jib was) and feels they are somehow kindred spirits. On Monday, in an interview with the Washington Examiner's Salena Zito, Trump went off on a tangent saying Jackson had been "really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War. He said, 'There's no reason for this.'"

Or Jackson might have said that, if he had been around at the time. The Civil War started in 1861, 16 years after Jackson was already too dead to get very angry about the war or pretty much anything else. This chronological speed bump aside, Trump speculated, "I mean, had Andrew Jackson been a little later, you wouldn't have had the Civil War." (What a pity! Jackson, a great negotiator, like Trump himself, could have simply talked the combatants out of having a war at all.) Having dipped his toe into historical analysis, Trump springboards into the deep end. "People don't realize, you know, the Civil War - if you think about it, why? People don't ask that question, but why was there the Civil War? Why could that not have been worked out?"

That is such a good point. Until now, nobody has really asked the question: Why did we have the Civil War? Well, there was the slavery business. But Andrew Jackson could have handled that. As Trump said, "He was a very tough person, but he had a big heart." If you don't count the Indian Removal Act Jackson signed in 1830, resulting in the displacement and deaths of thousands of Native Americans. Jackson himself owned more than 150 slaves, so if he had been alive to prevent the Civil War, would he have convinced the South to scale back on slavery or persuaded those Northern abolitionists that slavery was not so bad after all?

I know it's not fair to get snarky about Trump's bizarre observations of the Civil War. His area of specialization is Manhattan real estate, not American history. Or politics. Or geography. Or science. Or public speaking. But when Trump talks about Andrew Jackson, it is not to give us a history lesson. It is a thought experiment in which he magically places his hero into various turning points in history, to see what might have happened. Like the movie character Forrest Gump, who shows up at the right place and the right time to change history.

If only Andrew Jackson had been in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, to prevent the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, World War I could have been avoided. Jackson could have talked Martin Luther out of starting the Protestant Reformation (or, at least, shot him in a duel, as he did Charles Dickinson). Surely, Old Hickory could have prevented the Crusades and Pearl Harbor. He could have put his foot down on the French Revolution and The Great Depression. What a shame Jackson hadn't had a chance to talk Eve out of biting that apple! Things might be very different today.

Many historians would consider Andrew Jackson to be one of the most volatile, erratic, willful and possibly insane of all American presidents. And it is a bit unsettling to picture Mr. Trump, at 3 a.m., planning foreign policy, thinking, "What would Jackson do?"
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