WASHINGTON – How to account for President Donald Trump’s new thing for “Old Hickory?”
Trump flew to Nashville on Wednesday afternoon and visited the tomb of Andrew Jackson, the first of Trump’s predecessors he chose to so honor, in celebration of Jackson’s 250th birthday. He placed a wreath, pronounced himself a “big fan,” asserted that he had much in common with Jackson and sent a thank-you tweet to a man who died 160 years before Twitter.
This followed Trump’s decision in January to move a portrait of Jackson into the Oval Office, his position during the campaign against replacing Jackson on the $20 bill in favor of Harriet Tubman, and frequent attempts by top Trump strategist Steve Bannon to liken Trump to Jackson.
Most Americans probably don’t much care about the homage to the Hero of New Orleans and populist father of the Democratic Party. But one group sees the Jackson worship as an important sign from the president – the same people Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has been speaking to lately when he talks about “somebody else’s babies.” By accident or by design, Trump is delighting the white nationalists.
The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, applauded as “fitting” Trump’s honoring of this “white supremacist extremist,” as it calls Jackson. The group created a poster for supporters to display featuring a portrait of Jackson underneath a reference to a quote from Bannon: “Like Andrew Jackson’s populism, we’re going to build an entirely new political movement.” Beneath the Jackson portrait the poster says, with adorning swastikas, “The new face of the Republican Party: DailyStormer.com.”
Jackson belongs to all America, both the good (his common touch) and bad (his “Indian killer” nickname and the Trail of Tears), and several presidents visited his tomb before. But white nationalists are attempting to appropriate Jackson the way the tea party commandeered the “Don’t Tread on Me” flag, and they see Trump encouraging them. “The fact that he put up a portrait of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office should’ve sent a huge signal,” white nationalist James Edwards said on his radio show, “Political Cesspool.”
There’s political reason for Trump to send such signals. The number of white nationalists and overt racists is small, but feelings of racial resentment strongly predict support for Trump. A new analysis this week underscores the relationship.
Researchers from San Francisco State University and the liberal think tank Demos, writing in the Nation, said they did regression analyses comparing voters’ presidential preferences with their reaction to being told that the United States will become a minority-majority nation. The likelihood of supporting Trump increased sharply among those with negative views of racial diversity – but there was no similar effect seen among supporters of John McCain in 2008 or Mitt Romney in 2012.
This powerful fear of racial diversity explains why King, always a provocateur (he spoke of immigrants with “calves the size of cantaloupes” from drug-running), feels safe being more overtly racist (and why GOP leaders have been timid in response).
On Sunday, tweeting his approval of far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, King wrote: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”
He defended his remarks Monday on CNN, calling Western civilization “a superior culture,” and, in an Iowa radio interview, he predicted that “Hispanics and the blacks will be fighting each other” before whites lose their majority.
David Duke, the former Klan leader, celebrated King’s “babies” remark. Likewise, Duke, who fought last year to keep an iconic statue of Jackson in New Orleans, has been praising Trump’s actions, tweeting: “President Trump is off to an amazing start, God bless him for it!”
Richard Spencer, of the white-nationalist National Policy Institute, has praised Trump for, among other things, his choice of a white Protestant for the Supreme Court.
Spencer also posted a video Sunday defending King’s “babies” remark. “If this is a signal that conservatives are moving in the right direction under Trump,” Spencer said, “then I’m very happy.”
A continuing source of white nationalists’ happiness is Trump’s fascination with Jackson, who forcibly relocated Indians from the South. “Established in the midst of another and a superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear,” President Jackson told Congress in 1833.
Such thinking wasn’t unusual then, but today’s racists are trying to claim Jackson (and Trump) as their own. “We are in serious need of some more trails of tears just about now,” Andrew Anglin wrote on the Daily Stormer. “And it’s look [ing] like Trump may well deliver in spades.”
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.