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Trump's Populist Rise Like Andrew Jackson

Trump's Populist Rise Like Andrew Jackson
(Brian Snyder/Reuters)

By    |   Thursday, 27 August 2015 03:08 PM

Donald Trump is not unique. He is, in fact, part of a clear populist pattern in American history.

The first great populist rebellion was Thomas Jefferson and James Madison against the Federalist elites. By the end of their insurgency, they had invented the Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party disappeared.

This was a bitter struggle in which the Federalists tried to put their opponents in jail through the Alien and Sedition Acts.

The second great insurgency was Andrew Jackson against the eastern establishment. In 1824, Jackson clearly got the most popular votes but the old order ganged up on him.

There were four major candidates in 1824: Andrew Jackson got 99 electoral votes and 153,544 popular votes. John Quincy Adams followed with 84 electors and 108,740 votes. Then William H. Crawford received 41 electors and 40,856 votes, and finally Henry Clay was chosen by 37 electors and 47,531 votes.

Jackson clearly had less than a majority, but a strong plurality of support. When his competitors ganged up on him to give the election to John Quincy Adams (son of a former president and a classic insider), Jackson's followers exploded with anger.

The election of 1824 was widely described as a corrupt bargain. The Jacksonians spent four years bitterly attacking Adams and his supporters.

Even after his presidency, the establishment saw Jackson as such a disruptive, hostile outsider that its historians minimized and criticized his presidency for more than a century.

His first really favorable biography is Arthur Schlesinger Jr.'s "The Age of Jackson," in 1945. If you have to wait 117 years after your election for a good review, you have really offended the old order.

Donald Trump is in the tradition of this populist insurgency. He may win or lose. It is far too early to tell what the final outcome will be. It is clear, however, that the breadth and intensity of his appeal is far greater than any of the elites expected.

It is also clear that Trump is playing a very different game than any other contemporary leader. In many ways his stylistic approach marks him as a Jacksonian.

Trump, like Jackson, stays on permanent offense. If he makes a mistake, he simply launches another attack or another proposal. The sheer volume of noise overwhelms rational critiques.

Trump is also like Jackson in being a genuine celebrity. Jackson emerged as the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He grew into a legendary figure by 1824. During the four-year assault on President Adams, he and his supporters used weekly newspapers to saturate the country with their version of reality.

Similarly, Trump has been a celebrity for a quarter century. The recent Time magazine cover came 26 years after his first cover in January 1989.

There is a reason the Trump bus draws bigger crowds in small Iowa towns than most candidates. Trump is a genuine, outsized character, and in America, celebrity is a force of its own.

It’s dangerous, however, to focus simply on the personal characteristics of populist insurgents. They have to be colorful to attract the popular support and they have to be vivid to ignite the energy — but there is also something far deeper going on.

Millions of Americans supported Jefferson because they were fed up with a Federalist elite that people believed would sell them out.

Millions supported Andrew Jackson because they deeply distrusted the Bank of the United States and other instruments of elite power over the average citizen.

Similarly, Trump is gaining ground because Americans are deeply unhappy with their current elites.

When Gallup reports that 75 percent of Americans — 3 out of 4 —believe there is "widespread corruption," it is a sign of deep alienation and anger.

When the big banks get bigger and no bank official is held accountable, Americans grow alienated. When the 30-year-old promise to control the border is clearly violated by both parties, Americans grow alienated.

When the Veterans Administration fails to serve veterans and fails to fire corrupt, dishonest bureaucrats, Americans grow alienated. When the news media enforces political correctness in ways that threaten and intimidate normal people, Americans feel alienated.

When the weakest jobs recovery in modern times is further undermined by more regulations and more anti-jobs proposals, Americans feel alienated.

It is this depth of alienation that leads to the anger fueling the Trump movement.

Yes, charisma matters. But so do real issues. The elites are hysterical, simplistically blaming the “rage” and “anger” and “wrath” of ordinary Americans for the rise of Trump.

In fact, it is intellectual common sense that fuels the Trump eruption. The American people see every day in the newspapers new and fresh stories of government corruption. It is not “crony capitalism.” It is “gutless government” and “crony corporatism.”

They don’t understand why a government that can tax and spy and regulate so efficiently should not be able to do a simple thing like secure the border. They don’t understand why the EPA, which is supposed to clean up the environment, instead pollutes a river in Colorado and then thinks everything can be made better with stupid public relations stunts.

Trump may falter. He may fail. But undoubtedly, he is the heir to a strong and long streak of American populism.

Indeed, right now, he is leading it.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and a 2012 Republican presidential candidate. He has published 24 books, including many New York Times best-sellers. He and his wife, Callista, produce historical documentaries, including "America at Risk" and "Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny."

Craig Shirley is the author of "Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America." He is the founder of Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, and has been named the first Reagan scholar at Eureka College. Both are regular Newsmax contributors.

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Donald Trump is not unique. He is, in fact, part of a clear populist pattern in American history. The first great populist rebellion was Thomas Jefferson and James Madison against the Federalist elites.
trump, andrew jackson, president, 2016
Thursday, 27 August 2015 03:08 PM
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