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Column: 45 reasons why Jackson staying on $20 bill

Tom Collins
Tom Collins

It’s a little known fact that if you gamble at a casino run by Native Americans, you can bet with $20 bills but won’t get any $20s back when you cash in your chips.

America’s native people haven’t forgotten their ancestors’ forced removal under president Andrew Jackson and go to some lengths to keep Jackson’s portrait out of circulation. Native Americans doubtless support supplanting Jackson’s mug on the $20 with Harriet Tubman’s; but Treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin said May 22 it’s unlikely to happen while Trump is in office.

All of which begs a question:

Does Trump intend to keep Old Hickory on the $20 bill or does he have somebody else in mind to adorn one of our most-circulated notes?

It makes me wonder: Who might Trump nominate for America’s greatest, most successful president? Who does Trump love more than anybody else in the whole world? But I digress.

Really, what the Jackson-or-Tubman flap does is showcase the many commonalities between the seventh and 45th presidents. Democrats might take offense at the mere suggestion that the father of the Democratic Party has anything in common with today’s Republican incumbent, but Trump has openly admired Jackson and there are too many similarities to ignore.

Consider:

Jackson and Trump both reshaped the political landscape of their respective eras. Jackson’s 1828 victory marked the ascendancy of the Democratic Party and one could argue the opposing Whigs were united, if not defined, by their collective opposition to Jackson. Are we not seeing modern party lines redrawn under Trump?

Both presidents were rich yet showed an uncanny ability to connect with voters outside their socio-economic strata. Jackson was no more a man of the people than Trump, but both successfully appealed to the workingman and capitalized on populist sentiments.

Jackson and Trump both wrested political power from more experienced, if also more privileged, government figures. Jackson introduced the so-called “spoils system” to let outsiders nab government seats at the expense of seasoned figures who’d served under the Federalists and Jeffersonians. Trump’s Cabinet is similarly stocked with figures from the private sector with limited government experience.

And, of course, both were polarizing figures. Trump may yet overtake Jackson as the most beloved and reviled chief executive in U.S. history, but for now the heavyweight belt belongs to Old Hickory.

The analogy is an imperfect one, I’ll grant you. Jackson was self-made and only married once, was a decorated war hero and accrued significant legislative experience before running for president, which he first lost (in 1824) despite winning the largest share of the popular vote.

There’s no need to belabor the contrasts with Trump.

What interests and concerns me most is whether the Jackson comparisons will endure once the Trump administration has ended, as Jackson left behind a complicated legacy Trump would be ill-advised to follow.

Jackson exceeded his constitutional authority in strengthening the executive branch, reined in only by a dread of emulating the hated British monarchy. Jackson left office with a ready-to-collapse economy that foundered under successor Martin Van Buren. Jackson so rankled Capitol Hill that congressional leaders, after Jackson retired, embarked on a power grab that effectively weakened the presidency for decades.

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