Why The Comparisons Between Donald Trump And Andrew Jackson?

Andrew Jackson’s White House portrait

Credit: Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl/Wikimedia Commons

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March 28, 2017

President Donald Trump visited Andrew Jackson’s tomb two weeks ago, and comparisons between the presidents have prompted debate among the historical community: what parts of himself does Donald Trump see in the seventh U.S. president?

Harvard historian Nancy Koehn joined us to unpack this debate. She was careful to make the point that much of the comparisons made between Trump and Jackson have been driven by the administration itself.

“Somewhere early in Trump’s administration, possibly three weeks in, he arranged for a portrait of Andrew Jackson to be hung in the oval office,” Koehn said. “There has been intentional invocation of Trump’s relationship or similarities to Andrew Jackson.”

She said one of the grounds for comparison is “Trump coming into office with the promise to decrease elite power in favor of the common American,” a promise also made by Jackson.

Koehn also noted the commonality of “a healthy and often voiced skepticism about entrenched politicians.”

“All those things are part of the Jacksonian mantra that Donald Trump is, at certain points, very happy to pull out of his wardrobe and wrap around him,” said Koehn.

She also responded to the contrast between Jackson as a military hero and Trump as more of a novice.

“Part of [Jackson’s] appeal as a president was that he was a tried and true military leader. I think the relationship with Trump has something to do with perceived toughness,” she said. “Both of these men in different ways by their supporters were perceived as very strong.”

Nancy Koehn holds the James E. Robison Chair of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. Her forthcoming book is Forged in Crisis: The Power of Courageous Leadership in Turbulent Times. Click on the audio player above to hear her interview with Boston Public Radio.


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