14 November 2016

Historical guides

Historical analogies are imperfect. But to get at what I think many people disappointed by last week's results are seeing (people across the ideological spectrum). The closest comparison I keep coming back to, now that George Wallace no longer works, is Andrew Jackson.

The reason that's bad: Jackson was a terrible President.

He was racist, even in an era of much higher racism, he stands out (as does his key Supreme Court appointment, Roger Taney). He basically destroyed the US economy of the time, with his second term presiding over one of the worst economic downturns in the country's history (FDR does not get sufficient blame for what happened in his second term either, in my opinion). He completely destroyed the prospect of integrating native tribes like the Cherokee into rather than being excluded from American society (this was, admittedly, a dim prospect). He firmly inaugurated a spoils system in political appointments, a system which would take decades to overcome with civil reforms, and which greatly strengthened the executive branch at the expense of legislators and professionals. Those few who could provide a more balanced or nuanced check on radical reforms sought only by the executive.

His pre-election history includes a belligerent attempt to start a war over Florida (he invaded on his own to attack the Seminoles), and numerous duels. He was seen as having a lack of respect of common decency or genteel behavior. His election was seen as a changing of the guard in American politics, and a repudiation of elites by the general public. Given the reverence sometimes granted to Tocqueville's work on American democracy by right-wing thinkers, he was not fond of Jackson either, noting his indifferent hostility to Congress and tendency to ignore or subvert legal processes to try to get at his personal rivals or settle his own agenda. As a further parallel, he represented a significant shift within the Democratic party (away from Jeffersonianism, in style more so than substance, but both were shifted), much as Trump appears to have upset most of the previous ideological or intellectual pillars of the current Republican party (such as there were any left).

I'm not expecting Trump to be a good President. I'm not expecting him to uphold something like the dominant social values of the country. I'm not expecting him to behave personally. It might be because I've seen this play out before. And I didn't like how it went.
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