Recently, President Trump visited Andrew Jackson's grave on the 250th anniversary of his birth and laid a wreath. Then, at a rally in Louisville in Kentucky, Trump also praised Henry Clay.
This led to predictable snarking from reporters because Clay and Jackson had one of the fiercest political rivalries in American history.
Trump quoted Henry Clay in his speech in Louisville. You can't like Henry Clay *&* Andrew Jackson. Those dudes hated each other.— Jim Higdon (@jimhigdon) March 21, 2017
The idea of promoting Henry Clay's "American System" after praising President Jackson is rather confusing.— Niels Lesniewski (@nielslesniewski) March 21, 2017
Trump is now praising Henry Clay and Clay's "American system." Quite a flip flop from his visit to the Hermitage— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) March 20, 2017
The ferociously anti-Trump Time magazine also took the opportunity to hit President Trump.
"Henry Clay believed in what he called the 'American system,' and proposed tariffs to protect American industry and finance American infrastructure," Trump said. "Like Henry Clay, we want to put our own people to work... Clay was a fierce advocate for American manufacturing. He wanted it badly, he said, very strongly, free trade... He knew all the way back, early 1800s, Clay said that trade must be fair, equal, and reciprocal. Boom."
Experts say that Trump's assessment of Clay's belief that the country would prosper when industry at home grew is correct, yet Clay's ideas weren't based on helping American workers. In that sense, he diverged from the populist idol who has been a frequent touchstone for Trump: Andrew Jackson, whose portrait hangs in the Oval Office.
"They were absolutely feral enemies," says Fergus Bordewich, author of America's Great Debate: Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union. "They absolutely hated each other, they shared almost no views in common."
[President Trump Praised Both Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay. They Hated Each Other, by Olivia Waxman, Time, March 21, 2017]
But this misses the point. It's like saying that Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson would side with John McCain or Maxine Waters today. In today's America, or more accurately, today's post-America, the real battle is between nationalism and globalism and between those who want to preserve the historic American nation and those who want to replace it with the Third World. And in this climate, a Jackson and Clay synthesis makes a lot of sense.
After all, what is Andrew Jackson best known for today? Jackson was an aggressive American nationalist who fought the Indians, prized the Union, and generally exemplified the fighting spirit of the Scotch-Irish who settled the American frontier.
Clay was also an American nationalist, albeit one who prized high tariffs and infrastructure improvements. But from a contemporary point of view, both would be characterized on the side of"nationalists," those who put loyalty to the American nation-state ahead of attachments to foreign nations or a global system of international capitalism.
In Clay and Jackson's time, the battle was between those who were opposed to an Eastern establishment who wanted investment in infrastructure and a national bank, and those who thought that was support for a system of privilege. But today, the issue is that our economic, political and culture elite has no loyalty or even identification with this country. Both Clay and Jackson would be horrified by that.
What's more, on racial views, the real focal point of American politics and culture today, Clay and Jackson were on the same side. Kevin Williamson at National Review once predicted Democrats would never rename the Jackson-Jefferson day dinners because the cries of "racism" were just being driven by partisanship. He was wrong. The battle over figures like Jackson and Jefferson comes from a deeper political and cultural conflict, and these dinners were eventually renamed. Jackson's status as a Democrat is less important to modern progressives than his status as a "racist."
Your periodic reminder that Andrew Jackson was a founder of the Democratic Party-so odd Trump would praise him. And also a genocidal racist. https://t.co/VN9Rh0pM9L— Joy-Ann (Pro-Democracy) Reid 😷 (@JoyAnnReid) March 15, 2017
Similarly, Henry Clay was one of the founding members of the American Colonization Society, which sought to send free blacks back to Africa and help them establish colonies in there [They don't make Senators like they used to, by Bill Federer, WND, June 28, 2016]. At the time, one could argue this was an altruistic attitude to take—and it was viewed as a compromise position on the issue of slavery. But it hardly fits in with modern views about multiculturalism. Clay would be savaged as a "racist" today. Indeed, Rand Paul used his very first speech in the Senate to criticize Henry Clay for not doing enough to fight slavery [Rand Paul, White Renegade of the Year, 2013, by Gregory Hood, American Renaissance, December 31, 2013].
Today, it makes a lot of sense to talk about Clay and Jackson as leaders in different factions of a larger American nationalism which they identified with the core European-American population. Indeed, the times demand we reconcile their legacies.
Trumpism, in a sentence, is Andrew Jackson style populism in the service of a Henry Clay style program. And that's what America needs today.