The day before a federal judge in Hawaii shut down the second White House attempt at banning travel from several Muslim countries, US President Donald Trump on Wednesday visited the home and grave of another chief executive, Andrew Jackson, responsible for the forced removal of thousands of native Americans.
“Inspirational visit, I have to tell you. I’m a fan,” Trump reportedly said after laying a wreath at the Hermitage, the plantation where Jackson lived and died in Tennessee.
Trump salutes, lays a wreath at the tomb of Andrew Jackson pic.twitter.com/YqO5Pq3D6C
— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) March 15, 2017
During a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, Trump appeared to compare himself to Jackson, who had served as a messenger in the American Revolution, appealing to the seventh president in the first person.
“It was during the revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite,” Trump told the crowd, according to the Associated Press.
“Does that sound familiar to you?” he said. “Oh, I know the feeling, Andrew.”
Widely considered to be the first American populist president, Jackson, a wealthy former general, slave-holding plantation owner and jurist, touted his own connection to average Americans in defiance of the political establishment at the time. But for Native Americans, Jackson’s legacy remains the illegal and inhumane treatment in the name of taking native land. The territories, in modern Georgia, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, then went to white Americans. Much of the land was used for growing cotton and other cash crops, harvested by enslaved African Americans. Slavery in the United States was often a system of legalised rape and murder of millions of people over the course of hundreds of years; captivity solely based on the colour of their skin. Their children were born and died as the property of wealthy white landowners.
To many, Jackson represents some of the most brutal and unforgivably unjust aspects of American history, the consequences of which the country still struggles to understand and cope with. Put succinctly, Jackson represents genocide, slavery and the tyranny of white supremacy.
As Trump salutes a man who massacred indigenous people and bought, sold, and tortured enslaved Africans, the courts rule against him. https://t.co/Dv5op4BHNl
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) March 15, 2017
No President WHO OWNED HUMAN BEINGS should be honored or revered.
Not Jackson. Not Washington. None.https://t.co/N43D7ufsoo
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) March 15, 2017
Trump going out of his way to honour Jackson comes as another provocative act in an already provocative presidency. But Trump in his speech notably did not mention slavery or the expulsion of native people. He simply stated that both he and Jackson went against the establishment at the time. To many ears, this is code for federal government attempts to enforce the constitution and bill of rights on behalf of people of colour.
The expulsions of Native Americans in the southern states that Jackson spearheaded extended over the course of his presidency, between 1829 and 1837, and concluded during the term of his lesser-known successor, Martin Van Buren.
— Philip N Cohen (@familyunequal) March 16, 2017
Over the objections of the Supreme Court at the time, Jackson pushed for the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which allowed state militias in Georgia and other southern states to march tens of thousands of Native Americans hundreds of miles west to Oklahoma. Thousands died of disease and exposure to the elements. It was one of the first forced removals of indigenous people in the history of the United States, and saw men, women and children penned into concentration camps.
The march of the Cherokee out of north Georgia was one of the deadliest, an ordeal the tribe would call the “Trail of Tears.” Members of the tribe attempted to contest Jackson’s effort in the Supreme Court, where they won their case. Chief Justice John Marshall agreed that the Cherokee nation’s right to the land predated and superseded the laws of the state of Georgia.
But Jackson proceeded with his decision to see the tribe forced out, and declared the ruling of the court powerless to stop the Removal Act, passed by Congress.
“John Marshall has issued his decision. Let him enforce it,” Jackson told Cherokee leaders, who would later reluctantly sign over their rights to their land in the the face of deadly force.
The dynamic bears stark parallels to Trump’s recent Muslim ban. Namely that federal judges are able to issue declarations against the prohibition, but they cannot get into the heads of officials at the US border. A recent NBC report found a massive surge in the number of people who have had their mobile phones searched when coming into the country. Many officials applied this scrutiny to American citizens who are more often Muslim than non-Muslim.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
— Christopher Durai (@ChrisDurai) March 15, 2017
There has also been a concerted effort to crack down on undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, leaving some in a state of “constant fear.”
One supporter of the Muslim ban, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a big star in the panoply of evangelical politics, echoed Jackson’s sentiment that judges themselves are powerless to enforce laws. This would defy the “checks and balances” system that prevents any one branch of US government – the presidency, the courts or lawmakers – from overriding any other.
Hoping @POTUS tells Hawaii judge what Andrew Jackson told overreaching court-"I'll ignore it and let the court enforce their order."
— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) March 15, 2017
But Huckabee is right. Judges don’t have the guns. Law enforcement does. In theory, if the executive directs them to ignore the orders of the courts, there’s not much those who go to work wearing robes and suits can do to change the minds of folks who don badges. For the last two years, Trump has made a point of expressing his loyalty to police officers. Just as the local militias did in Georgia in 1830, if they feel more loyalty to the president than the courts, there’s not much the courts can do.
In February, Trump tweeted that a “so-called judge” was responsible for blocking his original travel ban, prompting condemnation from his own nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. The executive branch turning against the judicial has worried observers and legal scholars, and has few precedents in American history, except for Jackson’s presidency.
The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 4, 2017
There’s a deep irony to Trump choosing Jackson as a reflection of his own presidency. Trump during his campaign promised to “drain the swamp” in Washington, removing influence peddling and favoritism from the federal government. Jackson made his mark on history by creating the “spoils system,” in which a president could award jobs in government to allies and friends who had supported them in a campaign. Despite attempts at regulation to create a meritocracy in civil service, the favors-for-favors system Jackson put in place remains.
Today, Trump’s team, composed of people who “have made a fortune,” continues Jackson’s legacy of the spoils system. Border and customs officials, meanwhile, may be trying to re-enact the work of local state militias, the precursors of modern police departments, from the same tearful time.