The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson, seventh president of the United States, was a short drive from my elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Every year or so, our teacher would lead the class on a field trip to the Hermitage.
We toured the mansion’s rooms, my grade school colleagues and I, reveling in our release from school routine. Guides led us past rooms furnished in the upper class style of the early nineteenth century. Only later did I realize the slave labor required for Jackson’s comfort.
Jackson is known as a populist, the first president who was not one of the Massachusetts/Virginia founding fathers of the country. He represented the westward movement of the country by those who hadn’t inherited wealth.
Many of that day looked to improve their lot in life by settling west of the Appalachians on new land. No doubt they cheered Jackson’s forced removal of most of the native Americans from land their people had called home for generations.
In a time of rapid population growth and new inventions, the cotton gin led to the planting of more cotton. Plantation owners fought any attempt to abolish slavery, fearing loss of the unpaid laborers who supported their lifestyle.
The inconsistency of the American ideal of freedom with the subjection of an entire class of people was already leading to political battles.
According to reports, U.S. President Donald Trump has placed a picture of President Andrew Jackson on the wall of his office in the White House. Trump also is often called a populist, touted as breaking the power of government elites, an outsider.
Today also is a time of rapid transformation around the globe, caused by the computer age, globalization, massive immigration for economic and security reasons, and the entry of more women and minorities into the work force.
Economic inequality has increased, leading to prosperity for some and the loss of jobs and adequate wages for others. Those left behind feel alienated and abandoned by their politicians.
In the recent election, Trump took advantage of these trends by encouraging divisiveness and anger rather than offering a vision of cooperation for change.
We are not bound to follow the direction he has set. We can talk and respect each other and work out differences to real problems. Or we can hammer down the other “side” in anger and truly see our American dream vanish.