Sociological reasons, reasons we might lump together under the head of diversity, should not by themselves suffice to put an individual into a position, particularly one of great power and importance. The individual must be intellectually and emotionally capable of doing the job in question–these two are not always the same. And the individual must be qualified, based on prior experience in the area. The individual must also be of fit moral character, possessed at a minimum of basic integrity and decency.
The case of Andrew Jackson comes most readily to mind here. Here, clearly, was a man whose rise to the Presidency occurred primarily if not entirely for reasons of socio-economic diversity. Whether he was intellectually capable of being President is debatable. What’s beyond debate is that he lacked the emotional stability needed for such a demanding job. Frequently, throughout his adult life, he would fly into fits of rage, for little reason or sometimes none at all. Very possibly these fits were attributable to two serious head injuries he suffered (one in a duel, one of many he would fight throughout his tumultuous life). This back story may arouse our pity; it did not make him any better suited to hold high office.
It is on the score of his moral character that Jackson falls farthest short. His treatment of Indigenous Americans can only be termed genocidal. So barbaric was he in his treatment of members of this group that it was only a little bit of a surprise to learn, in Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste, that he kept a bridle for horseback riding made of the skin of an Indigenous person. Is this really any different from the Nazis’ treatment of the Jews they had slaughtered? Nor was his treatment of African-Americans any better. In a newspaper ad seeking the return of an escaped slave, Jackson offered, in addition to the normal reward, an additional 10 cents per lash, up to a maximum of 300 lashes. If you don’t believe me, check out Jackson’s Wikipedia biography, because that was where I learned this fact about him. This is the Common Man many Americans still revere? It speaks volumes that Jackson is, by a country mile, Donald Trump’s favourite past President.
Sole reliance on sociological considerations without regard to intellectual, emotional, or moral ones made this deranged psychopath President of the United States. Yes, it probably was time that the country had a common man (or woman) as its President. But couldn’t it have picked one possessed of a bit of human kindness and basic decency? Or, at the very least, one who was sane?
That this man is still revered in many American circles, and that his face is still allowed to adorn American currency, tells us all we need to know about the country’s utter moral and intellectual bankruptcy. Clearly there is some important national narrative that needs to be served by continued glorification of this criminally insane butcher. . .a narrative which glorifies Jackson’s brand of anti-intellectualism and militarism, while suppressing the more civilized, more humane alternative narrative offered by the federalism of John Quincy Adams, an abolitionist who believed government should engage in public works and promote the arts and sciences. But as soon look for the proverbial needle in the proverbial haystack as look for fair or objective treatment of the federalist narrative. Where, after all, would the defense budget be if anyone in power had ever paid anything approaching adequate attention to that narrative? And who would be available to provide apologies for America’s treatment of its Indigenous and Black people?
Removing Andrew Jackson’s face from the $20 bill and replacing it by that of a member of one of the groups he abused throughout his life would not solve all the problems around Jackson and the suppression of the anti-Jackson federalist narrative. But it would be a start, and perhaps the harbinger of bigger and better things. I hope I live long enough to see the names of John Quincy Adams and Alexander Hamilton included in history curricula alongside those of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. Only then will we start to appreciate just how destructive Jackson’s influence has been on American political life.